What is UMAMI?

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Japan in Finland

a lot of Japanese food!

I was surprised that it was so easy to find sushi restaurants in Finland, and many friends told me they like Japanese food, sushi, ramen and so on. Thanks for your appreciation.

deeper knowledge about Japanese cuisine

Then, some of them started to mention umami. They are especially curious about cooking and food, and asked me “what is umami?”. I know many Japanese think that’s a very difficult question. I feel sorry as a science teacher because it’s a completely scientific topic.

What is UMAMI?

the answer is easy

The answer is very easy. Umami is a taste. It is the 5th taste, which is recognized all over the world and sometimes translated as savory. It means, umami is the same as sweet, sour, salty and bitter. If you want to try pure umami taste, please lick Ajinomoto powder. I warn you: it’s really strong! But it’s umami.

History of umami

discovery

Umami was found in 1908, by Kikunae Ikeda, a professor from the University of Tokyo. He extracted L-glutamic acid from kombu seaweed, and found it as an umami molecule. After that, inosinic acid from bonito flake in 1913 and guanylic acid from dried shiitake were found as umami molecules also.

attempt to spread knowledge

Japanese researchers tried to educate people that umami is the 5th taste. They started holding international symposiums and tried to explain umami. This was of course new information and people outside of Japan thought that umami was only a mixture of sweetness and saltiness.

becomes known worldwide

It took time, but as Japanese food became popular, people realized that there is an extra taste which is not merely a mixture of sweetness and saltiness. In 1997, umami was officially recognized as the 5th taste. Media all over the world started talking about umami, and in 2000 the cell which recognizes umami was found. Umami became popular all over the world.

So, umami is

complicated in Japanese language

As I explained, umami is new. In Japanese language umami has two meanings.
1. good taste of food, the degree of tastiness
2. the taste of dashi from bonito flake, kombu seaweed and dried shiitake

When we talk about food in Japanese, we mostly use umami as the 1st meaning. That’s why Japanese people find it difficult to explain “what is umami”.

though, the answer is simple

So, what is the answer for “what is umami”? It’s the 5th taste! So simple and perfect.
This is science part of cooking. It’s fun, isn’t it.
So next, let’s think about what is DELICIOUS?

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