What Is Umami Flavour?

Ever wonder what makes Japanese food taste so good? It absolutely has a very distinct flavour, but how would you describe it? A hundred years ago, the distinct flavour of Japanese food lead to the discovery of a brand new flavor: umami.
You probably use a few distinct words—sour, bitter, salty, and sweet—in combination when you want to describe the flavour of your food you’re eating.
In fact, people have been describing their meals using these four ideas for thousands of years. There was really no other way to explain taste; you could, however, delve a little deeper by describing the textures (crunchy, tender, etc.) or comparing it to another dish.

Greeks got it wrong

Then the world encountered Democritus. Democritus, along with a bunch of other Greek thinkers like Socrates and Euclid, were pretty much the founders of western scientific and philosophical thought. And Democritus theorised that foods tasted like one of the four basic categories because of the shapes of the food’s atoms.
To be fair, Greek thinkers got a lot of things right (like mathematics). On the other hand, they were wrong about a lot of other things. And Democritus couldn’t be more wrong about the number of basic tastes. Yet, nobody would challenge the scientific basis of this claim until thousands of years later, when an unknown Japanese scientist started questioning the status quo.
A Japanese scientist by the name of Kikunae Ikeda started to consider the possibility of a fifth basic taste in the early 1900s. Ikeda discovered the fifth flavour after evaluating numerous items that didn’t quite fit into the previous four categories.
He called it umami うま味.

It’s a little hard to describe, but when you taste it, you know how distinct it is. Umami is the kind of flavour that’s found in meat, cheese, and mushrooms. Umami means “essence of deliciousness” in Japanese, and its taste is often described as the meaty, savoury deliciousness that deepens flavour.

Some cultures call it savoriness, but the term umami is used all across the world today.

ramen udon soba chopsticks japanese food

Is umami good for you?

Since umami is a specific taste and not a substance, it has no nutritional value. However, it is frequently seen as unhealthy and rich in salt because it is the primary taste in some foods and sauces. Umami, on the other hand, can also be found in a number of foods that are good for you, including kimchi, shrimp, cabbage, mushrooms, asparagus, and ripe tomatoes. Consuming meals with a lot of umami flavor is not harmful if you read labels attentively and eat moderately.

The commercialised umami – MSG

Ikeda sought to develop a way to commercialise the wonderful savory flavour known as umami so that everyone might use the same essence in their cooking. Soon he came up with Monosodium glutamate. MSG for short is the name given to the marketed form of umami. Glutamic acid is a naturally occurring acid that can be found in tomatoes, grapes, cheese, and mushrooms. MSG is just glutamic acid sodium salt.

Because it has been connected to headaches, nausea, and other health difficulties, MSG has been a contentious component for a while. Meals containing MSG are “generally considered as safe,” according to the Food and Drug Administration, but the FDA does require explicit labelling on MSG-containing foods. MSG is increasingly accepted by both professional chefs and restaurant patrons, despite the fact that there are still some myths about it and that a lot of the evidence is still ambiguous concerning its effects on health.

don don ramen japanese food umami flavour
But don’t worry, if you’re in a traditional Japanese restaurant, you can be sure of the quality of the food you’re getting. That umami flavour is most likely coming from natural ingredients.
Oishii, oishii!

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