What is UMAMI? Umami is the 5th Taste!

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Umami is the fifth taste. We often see seasonings named “umami”. But, pure umami seasonings are limited. For example, Ajinomoto and MSG are umami seasonings.

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Umami is the 5th Taste

Umami is a taste. The universal tastes are salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami. Umami is the fifth and newest basic taste.

Discovery of Umami

Umami was founded in Japan. Because the Japanese often use dashi, they realized that it had a different taste from salty or sweet.

In 1908, Professor Kikunae Ikeda of the University of Tokyo extracted monosodium L-glutamate from kelp, kombu. This is umami, which some may avoid as MSG. But rest assured, MSG and Ajinomoto are safe.
Ajinomoto is UMAMI Seasoning: Tips & 4 Useful Recipes
Ajinomoto, MSG is Safe. Ajinomoto is amino acid, monosodium glutamate and is umami seasoning, made from sugar cane, is gluten-free and vegan.

In 1913, inosinic acid was found in dried bonito flakes, and in 1957, guanylic acid was found in dried shiitake mushrooms. And these, too, are umami ingredients.

Just Savory?

Japan strived to have the taste of umami recognized around the world.

However, people overseas, who do not have a dashi culture, did not seem to understand umami well. This is because taste needs training. If you don’t taste umami on a regular basis, you will not be able to taste it. Therefore, people said that umami doesn’t exist or just a mixture of salty and sweet tastes, or they use the term “savory”.

Japanese Food Boom

Around the same time, Japanese food gradually spread abroad. And it also spread that there are not only sushi and ramen but also a variety of other dishes. In the process, it also slowly became known that apparently there is a taste that is not a mixture of sweet and salty.

In 1997, umami was finally recognized as the fifth taste. And in 2000, the presence of an umami-sensing organ in the taste buds was identified.

Over the years, people recognized umami. It is now common knowledge that the basic tastes are salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami.

Types of Umami

There are three types of umami mainly.

Amino Acids

The first is the amino acid group, including monosodium glutamate, made famous by Ajinomoto. Tomatoes, onions, and raw mushrooms have it.

Also, food of animal origin includes it when it is aged. Examples are cheese and cured ham. The umami found in miso and soy sauce is also glutamic acid.

In seasonings, MSG, or ajinomoto belongs to this group. MSG is one of the umami tastes.

Nucleic Acids

The second group is nucleic acids. There are two typical umami ingredients. The umami of the nucleic acid group is same as sodium 5′-ribonucleotide.

Guanillic Acid

First is guanylic acid. Dried mushrooms, such as dried shiitake mushrooms have it. Often misunderstood, fresh mushrooms contain glutamic acid. It contains almost no guanylic acid. Only limited foods contain guanylic acid.

Inosinic Acid

Next is inosinic acid. Bonito flakes have it. Also, fish and meat include it. Basically, it is an umami taste derived from animals.

However, it can also be made from plants. One of the umami seasoning, Hi Me, contains 92% sodium glutamate, 4% sodium inosinate, and 4% sodium guanylate. Their all ingredients are plant-based.

Organic Acids

The third group is organic acids. Shellfish contain an organic acid called succinic acid. Succinic acid is another umami taste that is unique to shellfish.

Synergistic Effects of Umami

These are four typical umami tastes. In fact, it is important to mix two or more umami tastes. By mixing them, you can feel the umami taste many times stronger. This is called the synergistic effect of umami.

For example, consider dashi. We can cook dashi from kombu alone or dried bonito flakes alone. However, the major type of dashi is a combined dashi using both kombu and dried bonito flakes. It requires more ingredients. And, It takes more time and effort. Also, it costs more. But why is combined dashi still so often used? It is because that the combination of different types of umami gives a stronger sense of umami.

What is Umami Seasoning?

Recently, I have seen many seasonings with the name UMAMI.

If you look at the ingredients, they include tomatoes, garlic, and many other things.

Seasoned Salt & Seasoned Umami

Umami is a taste. And the four ingredients are umami ingredients. So, what is umami seasoning?

For example, consider salt. Salt is NaCl. Lemon-flavored salt is called lemon salt. Lemon-flavored salt is seasoned salt.

Let’s apply this to umami seasonings. Umami is glutamic acid, guanylic acid, inosinic acid, and succinic acid. The seasoning which added tomato and garlic flavors should be called seasoned umami.

Pure Umami Seasoning

My point is that the term “umami seasoning” is apparently used in a very broad sense. In Japan, the country where umami originated, umami seasoning is a seasoning that adds only umami. In other words, umami seasonings are glutamic acid, guanyl acid, inosinic acid, and succinic acid.

Specific products are Ajinomoto, Haimi, and Inoichiban.

Each has a different blend of umami ingredients.

Vegan Umami Seasoning

Furthermore, Ajinomoto, Hi Me, and Inoichiban are all made from plants. In other words, they are vegan products.

Vegan food often lacks umami. This is because glutamate is the main ingredient in vegetables and cannot use the synergy of other umami. However, the use of umami seasonings solves the problem.

Correct Umami Knowledge

I am Japanese. I am very happy that umami is spreading. However, I see a lot of misunderstanding and misuse of umami these days. I hope to understand umami correctly and spread its delicious usage.

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