Umami, the “fifth element” in your mouth

It is the fifth flavor, the one that is “tasty” in your tongue. It is not bitter, salty, acidic or sweet. It has been used for centuries but was only accepted by the international community in 2000.
The discovery of umami taste is relatively recent, although the search for foods that enhance the flavor goes back centuries and different cultures. So much so that in ancient Rome the Garum was used, a fermented fish sauce rich in Umami.

Yurika Kodama, a Japanese woman based in Madrid who teaches Japanese, explains that umami is a term of her language that literally means “delicious” or “with deep flavor”. Therefore, it is not bitter, salty, acidic or sweet. It is the fifth flavor, the one that is “tasty” in your language and never taught in school, although it is present in many foods.

The discovery. The umami taste was always there, but it was identified specifically in 1908 by the scientist Kikunae Ikeda, a professor at the Imperial University of Tokyo. The researcher discovered that glutamate was responsible for the palatability of kombu seaweed broth. He noticed that the flavor of the dashi (broth) of kombu was different from the other four flavors; and he called it umami.

What Ikeda discovered was glutamate, an amino acid, which is part of the structure of proteins and provides a completely different flavor than usual.

The Japanese professor detected that this flavor was common to meat, tomatoes, asparagus and cheese. In addition, in the kombu broth (type of seaweed used in Japanese cuisine) was present with impetus. He then went to discover where that flavor came from and managed to extract crystals of glutamic acid from the kombu broth, discovering that this particular and tasty flavor came from that amino acid.

All this was accepted by the international community in 2000, when specific receptors are discovered in the taste buds.

From the plate to the mouth. As it is not a taste in which we are “educated” it is not easy to distinguish umami -as we do with sweet, bitter, acid or salty-, explains the gastronomic site “Directo al Paladar”.

For its part, the specialized site “Cocina y Vino” proposes 5 meals where you will feel the umami flavor:

  1. Season a fish with ajinomoto. This condiment nicknamed “Chinese salt” is a great source of umami flavor and goes great with salmon or other fatty fish. It can be obtained in stores of Japanese ingredients.
  2. Prepare a paste with sauce of fresh tomatoes, sliced ??and sauteed and serve with plenty of Parmesan cheese. Both the fruit and the cheese are rich in umami.
  3. Sauté spinach leaves with mushrooms and serve as an accompaniment to a medium or three-quarter cooked meat seasoned with soy sauce.
  4. Prepare hamburgers with cheese and slices of fresh tomato. Accompany them with potato chips and ketchup (which is rich in umami, by the way).
  5. Make a delicious pizza with peppers, mushrooms and anchovies, and feast on umami.

Another idea, very simple, is to present a tasty table of cold meats and cheeses, with Iberian ham, parmesan and those that you like the most.

It is easy to notice the effect produced by achieving a more intense flavor, which causes salivation and makes us feel that the dish has a special “touch”. Oriental cuisine is the expert in the combinations to achieve it. It is that eating is necessary but if it is tasty, much better.