Umami Tsunami : Exploring the Fifth Flavor in Seattle

Umami Tsunami : Exploring the Fifth Flavor in Seattle

By L.M. ArcherFoodable Contributor

You know the five fundamental flavors, don’t you? Sweet, salty, sour, bitter...and umami.  The Japanese term umami, loosely translated, means ‘satisfying, savory taste.’ But asking a Japanese person to define ‘umami’ is like asking a French person to define ‘terroir’ - both terms denote far more nuances than any translation allows.  And though a Japanese word, the concept of umami dates back at least as far as the Roman Empire, to a time when fermented fish paste called garum proved the favored condiment.

Tokyo professor Dr. Kikunae Ikeda officially ‘discovered’ umami in 1908, convinced of ‘another taste’ beyond salty, sweet, sour and bitter in his Japanese staple ‘kombu dashi’ - a fish and dried kelp broth.  That other flavor turned out to be glutamate, an amino acid which appears naturally in meats, fish, and dairy products. Japanese scholars also later concluded that inosinic acid and guanosine monophosphate (GMP) form additional components of umami. 

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