What is umami, the fifth flavor


Human beings are said to be able to recognize five different tastes: bitter, salty, sour or sour, sweet and umami. This last flavor, the most difficult to describe, is unknown to many people. That is why today I will try to explain what is Umami, the fifth flavor.

In fact, its knowledge is relatively recent, although the search for these foods that enhance flavor was already a tradition even in ancient Rome where Garum, a fermented fish sauce rich in Umami, was used. The word Umami comes from the Japanese language and means tasty.

The word Umami, is derived from two words, Umai (delicious) and me (flavor) and has been used since the term was chosen by the Japanese Kikunae Ikeda to refer to foods when they have a delicious and pronounced or intense flavor.

There are many foods that contain Umami, although there is a product that is practically pure Umami, ajinomoto or monosodium glutamate. This product, widely used in Asian cuisine, can be purchased in powder form, but we are more interested in discovering which foods are rich in Umami, to combine them and enhance our stews and other recipes. A good example would be cured ham.

A little history of umami and foods in which this flavor is found

The umami flavor was not identified in the strict sense until 1908 when the scientist Kikunae Ikeda of the Imperial University of Tokyo, discovered that glutamate was responsible for the flavor of the cooking broth of Kombu seaweed, whose flavor was different from the flavors traditionally known, sweet, sour, bitter and salty, calling the resulting flavor Umami.

Subsequently, other foods were investigated, discovering in them the presence of this fifth flavor, such as the bonito or katsuobushi shavings, from the first photo, or the shiitake mushrooms, whose cooking also produces very tasty broths, very rich in Umami.

The fifth flavor was also discovered in many other foods, such as cheese, anchovies, ripe tomatoes, dried tomatoes and many other ingredients such as soy sauce or cured ham.

How to enhance umami in our dishes?

Later, the effects of umami began to be analyzed, not so much for its own flavor, but for the flavor that enhances other ingredients. For example, if when making a chicken broth you add a little soy sauce or a shiitake, the broth will not be more salty, but it will have more flavor, it will be more tasty, or what is the same, it will have more umami.

Although many of us did not know what Umami is, we were already unconsciously using it in many of our recipes. A mixture such as cheese and tomato (typical in pasta dishes) or enriching a broth with bones or a cane of ham, are ways to enhance the flavors of each ingredient by using the umami flavor.

Both tomato, ham or cheese are foods rich in umami that have as a characteristic, that beyond their own flavor, they manage to enhance the individual flavor of the other ingredients used. This occurs for chemical reasons since foods that contain glutamate in combination with foods that contain ribonucleotides, cause their respective flavors to multiply.

The splash of Perrin's sauce (which contains anchovies among other ingredients) in the cooking of the lentils with chorizo, makes the flavor very potent. The same happens with the combination of anchovies, cheese and tomato in the alla puttanesca sauce of Italian cuisine.

Our papillae perceive umami when we eat foods with Glutamate, or with other compounds such as Guanosine or Inoside in its derivatives, inosinate or guanylate. What is peculiar is not only the perception of that "tasty" flavor, but the balance it provides to other flavors since, for example, it lowers the sensation of bitterness and enhances the sweet, leaving the food more harmonized, more balanced or rounder.

As it is not a flavor we are in "educated"It is not easy to distinguish umami -as we do with sweet, bitter, acid or salty- but it is easy to notice the effect it produces when achieving a more intense flavor, which causes salivation and makes us feel that the Dish has a special "twist".

A few days ago I had the opportunity to participate in a workshop called In Search of Umami, at the Dreams cooking school. The workshop was taught by Chema Soler, the chef of the Gastrocroquetería and he told us a lot about Umami, -and he gave us a text that has helped me a lot to prepare this post-, and also, he taught us to use it in a few recipes.

In a few days I will show you the dishes that we prepared in that workshop on Umami and through the recipes that we learned to prepare, you will see how this flavor can be incorporated to enhance our most common recipes, giving them an extra flavor, a tasty touch or whatever. which is the same, a Umami touch.

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Tags:  Recipes Desserts Selection 

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