Have you ever felt like you were missing the words to describe a particular taste? It wasn’t sweet, sour, salty, or bitter. Could it have been umami?
Whilst it is almost impossible to put a finger on its exact characteristics, umami has been described as a full-bodied taste. It’s “meaty,” “savory,” and “enhanced”. We might even say it is simply “better”.
When thinking of umami, dashi may come to mind. In its basic form, dashi is a broth made by extracting flavors from ingredients by boiling them. Yet unlike typical soup stocks made from a variety of mixed ingredients, dashi relies on only one or two simple ingredients. The beauty of this simplicity, however, is in its ability to enhance and harmonize the flavors of the other ingredients it’s paired with, creating a dish that is more than the sum of its parts.
Found in a wide range of Japanese dishes, dashi defines Japanese cuisine in many ways with the subtle elegance of its simple ingredients.
Equally as important, dashi (specifically konbu (kelp) dashi) led chemist and professor at Tokyo Imperial University, Dr. Kikunae Ikeda, to uncover umami. He found that the amino acid glutamate, which is present in dishes containing konbu, triggered certain taste receptors when combined with salt. He deduced that it was responsible for creating "deliciousness". Later on, inosinate and guanylate were also discovered as drivers of umami.
The fifth taste is found in an array of ingredients from mushrooms to cured meat and from parmesan to soy sauce. Other foods that contain umami include a range of meats and fishes, tomatoes, asparagus, and several others.
Whether you can “detect” umami or not, one thing is for sure: umami makes everything taste better!
Try creating umami in your dishes with our Dashi: "Umami" Care Package.
About the author:
Sarah Kante is a culture and entertainment writer with over a decade of experience. Her passion for travel has led her to explore the world extensively, from Europe to the Pacific, Asia to the USA. When she isn’t on the road, checking out cultural events or writing, you can find her in the kitchen, trying to master recipes from all over the world. When she has the time, she also writes a travel blog, Sarah Does Travel Writing.