James Breuhl of Thibodaux, Louisiana embarks on a culinary adventure, unraveling the enigmatic world of umami. In the following article, James Breuhl delves into the intriguing realm of the fifth taste, understanding its nuances, and discovering how it can be skillfully harnessed to elevate culinary creations.
The world has Professor Kikunae Ikeda of the now-named University of Tokyo to thank for the known existence of umami, the fifth taste. While the average person may not ponder or appreciate its existence, foodies across the globe are mesmerized with the 1908 discovery and yearn to learn how they can best incorporate it in their dishes.
James Breuhl of Thibodaux, Louisiana says that understanding the science behind this otherwise-elusive taste allows cooking enthusiasts to masterfully make umami-based dishes that aren’t heavy or overpowering and instead showcase the beauty of this originally Japanese art.
James Breuhl Discusses the Deliciousness
Umami joins sweet, sour, salty, and bitter on the basic (otherwise known as primary) tastes list, solidifying itself as a unique taste that can’t be made by mixing others.
James Breuhl of Thibodaux, Louisiana explains that despite widespread Western belief, umami is not a single ingredient. Instead, it’s a term used for substances mixing glutamate (an amino acid) and nucleotides inosinate or guanylate with minerals like potassium and sodium.
But the Umami Information Center notes that is just the commercialized definition. The scientific definition highlights how the taste is actually formed.
In the science world, umami is the palate of salts combining inosinate, glutamate, or guanylate with sodium ions, like potassium ions or monosodium glutamate. Salts of aspartate, an amino acid, and adenylate, a nucleotide, are also considered variations of umami substance — although they’re weaker than the aforementioned glutamate. More recent evidence suggests succinic acid, present in shellfish, is another potential umami substance.
What’s in the Name
James Breuhl of Thibodaux, Louisiana says that often, the word “umami” is confused with “deliciousness,” purportedly stemming from the Japanese expressions “umai” and “to have umami,” which can mean “tastiness.” But unlike the notion of deliciousness — a highly subjective matter based on a wealth of factors like aroma, taste, texture, appearance, and temperature —, umami is a predefined basic taste that plays an important role in the tastiness of a dish.
The Fifth Taste’s Three Properties
James Breuhl of Thibodaux, Louisiana explains that despite its placement on the “basic tastes” list, umami is anything but basic, as any foodie can attest. It’s so complex that chefs have determined its three properties that together constitute the delicate, subtle taste.
A study required participants to take solutions of glutamate and inosinate (umami substances), tartaric acid (a component of wine), and table salt separately, spitting them out and comparing the intensity of the remaining tastes in their mouths.
The results were shockingly similar across the board; the salty taste of table salt and the sour influx of tartaric acid faded quickly, yet umami lingered for several minutes. Thus, it plays a major role on foods’ aftertastes, even among the primary tastes.
Coating the Tongue
James Breuhl of Thibodaux, Louisiana notes that since umami is consistently described by restauranters as a taste that spreads across and coats the tongue, various experiments have set out to test the fact.
Studies have shown that, while sweet and salty tastes are more easily sensed on the tongue’s tip, umami is experience all over, confirming the anecdotal accounts.
James Breuhl of Thibodaux, Louisiana says that sour tastes produce salivation, but researchers discovered that umami triggers secretion for longer. Plus, the viscosity of the produced saliva is thicker compared to sour’s production, more effectively wetting the inside of the mouth.
Boosting Umami in Everyday Cooking
Food enthusiasts will undoubtably be delighted to note that it’s relatively easy to increase the presence of umami in home-cooked meals. While easy to overdo the taste, regularly tasting meals while creating them eliminates this food-ruining issue.
Stocking Cupboards with Umami Foods
James Breuhl of Thibodaux, Louisiana notes that those who fill their kitchen cupboards with umami-filled foods are more likely to successfully incorporate it into their dishes. Some such foods are surprisingly common but beautifully add the fifth taste, including:
- Soy-based foods (e.g., soy sauce, natto, soybeans, and miso)
- Aged cheese (e.g., cheddar, Comte cheese, parmesan, and gouda)
- Green tea
- Seafood (e.g., anchovies, scallops, cod, mackerel, sardines, yellowtail, and tuna)
- Meat (e.g., bacon, cured ham, beef, and pork)
- Oyster sauce
Sourcing Umami-Rich Rich Recipes
James Breuhl of Thibodaux, Louisiana says that after stocking the cupboards, foodies can scour the web for recipes promoting this coveted taste. The trick is to look for meals incorporating the above-mentioned ingredients to ensure the perfect balance of umami dishes, like homemade tomato sauce, black garlic risotto, and butternut squash-shiitake ragout.