Umami: Separating myth from fact
Umami was added as the fifth basic taste in the 20th century. It encompasses the “savoury” category of food, providing us with a word to describe just what it is in food like bacon that we love so much.
Listen as Aldo Parise, Editor-in-chief of Quench, describes Umami.
As Parise mentions, umami makes dishes taste more savoury and full. It’s a long-lasting, coating sensation over the tongue. Umami can be difficult to identify because it plays a background role to most flavours and is a subtle taste. It blends with other tastes to expand and round out the flavours, sort of acting as the backbone and structure of a dish.
Umami was discovered in the 1908 by Japanese scientist Kikunae Ikeda, who set out to identify the specific flavour in kombu seaweed used in Japanese cuisine. He’s observed that the taste of kombu dashi was distinct from sweet, sour, bitter and salty, and named it Umami. The term, when translated, means “pleasant savoury taste”. It comes from the Japanese words umai “delicious” and mi “taste”.
Umami’s big break through came to the western world in 1985, when scientists failed to replicate the flavour of MSG. The science of taste dictates that all flavours can be recreated through specific combinations of the basic tastes, much like all colours can be recreated through the use of three primary colours. Scientists’ inability to recreate the flavour of MSG meant that there was a missing “ingredient”, which opened the door of Ikeda’s research to be accepted, and the fifth taste was inaugurated.
If you’re interested in learning how to identify and taste umami, visit the Umami Information Center website and try their tasting course.