The Japanese have known about it for years, and now the rest of the world is catching on to umami, the fifth taste. But what is it exactly?
Discover the Japanese yum-factor
There’s a revolution going on in the world’s top kitchens – and you can blame it on the Japanese. We’re talking umami, the fifth taste, after sweet, sour, salty and bitter, that was isolated as a specific taste back in 1908 by Japanese scientist Kikunae Ikeda. It lies at the heart of Japanese cooking – and ours, too, if the Japanese have got anything to do with it.
In science-speak, it’s the savoury taste imparted by glutamate and five ribonucleotides, including inosinate and guanylate, which are in many foods, including tomatoes, cured ham and mushrooms.
To the man in the street, it’s the yum factor. Get the combinations of glutamates and inosinates right and you can boost that yum factor tenfold – hence the interest from our chefs.
Heston Blumenthal got umami sussed a few years back and uses it at his restaurant, the Fat Duck ( +44 (0)1628 580 333 +44 (0)1628 580 333, fatduck.co.uk). He’ll even tell you that an understanding of food isn’t complete without it.
Claude Bosi and Sat Bains agree. The Michelin-starred chefs from Hibiscus in London ( +44 (0)20 7629 2999 +44 (0)20 7629 2999, hibiscusrestaurant.co.uk) and Restaurant Sat Bains in Nottingham ( +44 (0)115 986 6566 +44 (0)115 986 6566, restaurantsatbains.co.uk) travelled to Japan recently, and say that since the trip they have changed the way they cook.‘I use less salt and want cleaner flavours,’ says Bains. Bosi has introduced new dishes such as tartare of mackerel with ox cheeks and sesame-seed purée. ‘The simplest explanation? It makes your mouth water,’ he says. For more on umami, visit umamiinfo.com.
by Fiona Sims