Let’s explore the taste of Japanese Umami : Hey guys, are you all hungry? Well you certainly will be after reading this. Today we are going to be looking at the wonderful and delicious world of Japanese culinary excellence that is Umami.

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Let’s explore the taste of Japanese Umami

In Japanese cuisine, there is said to be 5 basic tastes. These are sweetness, saltiness, bitterness, sourness, and umami. The first four are quite self explanatory but umami– I know you’re probably thinking hard about what the fifth one might be. Well, Umami is actually the savoury taste that you can find in ramen, soups, cooked meat, and broths. 

What is Umami?
What is Umami?

We are going to give you a run down today about everything Umami so we hope you are ready for a tasty adventure. Let’s get started.

What is Umami?

As we’ve mentioned above, umami is the fifth flavor and is actually a combination of two words. It is written as うま味 and is a combination of the word “うまい”, which means delicious, and the compound “味: み”, which means taste, from 旨味 (umami: delicious food). These combined makes the word “うま味” which means “pleasant savoury taste”. The term itself was coined by a chemist in 1908 at Tokyo University called Kikunae Ikeda. He noticed the taste and experimented on certain food, eventually finding and pinpointing the amino acid, glutamate, as the source of the taste. Through this, he learned how to produce the notoriously unhealthy and delicious flavour enhancer, MSG, which he later patented.

It was recognized as the scientific term for the taste of glutamates and nucleotides in 1985 and is described as a pleasant brothy or meaty taste that has a long lasting and mouth watering sensation on the tongue. Ate ramen? Umami. Ate a steak? You got it… It’s Umami!

Don’t be fooled by the name as Umami food isn’t only found in Japanese cuisine. Every countrys cuisine has some sort of Umami in their local cuisine and everyone has some sort of Umami taste that they like whether it may be spaghetti bolognese, instant cup noodles, or even fried chicken from KFC. These are all food that somehow has the essence of what Umami tastes like.

Food that embody “umami”

As we mentioned above, food that tastes “Umami” is from the taste of glutamates and nucleotides. This can both be found in meat and vegetables. Raw meat isn’t considered Umami as you need to release the amino acids by cooking it, slow cooking it, smoking it, and even aging it. Fermentation also produces the Umami taste as it can produce food like cheese, soy sauce, and of course, cured meat. The most popular umami foods from Japan are probably miso(fermented paste), ramen(meaty noodle goodness with a slow cooked broth), and dashi (rich stock made from kombu or any umami bearing food).

Of course, Umami can also be found in the vegetable world. You can probably find the highest amount of glutamate in mushrooms, which makes a lot of sense as a lot of vegetarian based food that wants to taste like meat have mushrooms in them. You can also find glutamate in tomatoes, peas, sweetcorn, avocadoes, potatoes, asparagus, cooked celery.. And the list goes on. One might argue why some vegetables have an umami taste to it and the answer might be simpler than you think. It could be the same reason why fruit tastes so sweet. It’s to entice predators to spread their seed!

Jam packed deliciousness

 A combination of the above mentioned vegetables can make an amazing stock or stew, especially when combined with meat make an amazing combination. But why is this the case? For the other tastes, if you combine something salty with something equally salty, it gets a bit too much and might not be as appetizing as they are separately. For Umami food however, combining them is almost always a win. 

One good example of an umami combo is lasagna, pizza, or even a burrito. Meat plus cheese PLUS tomatoes… these foods are classic favorites and believe it or not, is not just down to personal preference. This can be explained by the science behind Umami. As we already know, Umami has glutamates. Umami food also contains chemicals called ribonucleotides which can also be found in many natural foods. When you combine ingredients that have umami giving compounds, they somehow enhance each others’ flavors, making your dish jam packed with savoury deliciousness.

Boy we are feeling hungry, are you? We really hope that you guys enjoyed todays especially tasty online Japanese lesson from Bondlingo, as usual, if you have any questions or suggestions that you would like us to cover in future posts, please get in touch and let us know. Now go and get something delicious to eat, you deserve it. See you in the next online Japanese article from Bondlingo.

ASK any questions about Japanese!

Learn Japanese Online with BondLingo

Learn Japanese Online with BondLingo


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