So what ingredients make food taste good?
Taking its name from Japanese, umami is a pleasant savoury taste imparted by glutamtae, a type of amino acid and ribonucleotides, including inosinate and guanylate, which occur naturally in many foods including meat, fish, vegetables and dairy products. As the taste of umami itself is subtle and blends well with other tastes to expand and round out flavors, most people don’t recognize umami when they encounter it but it plays an important role making food taste delicious. Traditionally, it been thought that our tounge sense four basic taste sensations: salty, sour, sweet and bitter but now a fifth element is added to the equation: umami.
The main source of umami is derive from three different types of ammino acid: Glutamic acid, Inosinic acid and Guanylic acid. Glutamic acid is found in Kombu and vegetables, inosinic acid in fish/shellfish and meat, and guanylic acid in fungi.
When glutamic acid combines with the two others, the umami flavor increase. For example, Kombu, rich in glutamic acid and Katsuobushi, rich in inosinic acid is the basic ingredients to make Dashi. By combining the two ingredients together the umami flavor increase by eight times compare to just using Kombu by itself. If you only use one ingredient, for example only kombu is used, the taste of food is rather bland there is no depth of flavor to it. Just as the meat flavor improves when simmered together with vegetables, these conjunctions of food ingredients is what creates a masterpiece of flavor.
Most aged products and/or fermented ingredients contain high concentration of umami. The umami elements increase during the drying and processing stages and nutrients are also concentrated. Miso paste or fermented soybean paste and soy sauce gain added umami during processing. Other examples that contain umami includes but not limited to are cheese, cured meats, wines and fish sauce.
Difference between Asian cooking and Western cooking is in the use of ingredients by “subtraction versus addition.” In Asian cooking specifically in Japanese cuisine, strives to distill foods to their natural essence and balance subtle flavors. Western cuisine takes a different approach, layering fats, butter and spices to create strong impactful flavor.
Ingredients that contain Inosinic acid
- Mainly present in animals, shellfish and fish. May also be produced by bacterial fermentation of sugars.
Ingredients that contain Guanylic acid
- Fungi (Dried Shiitake Mushroom for example)
Natural Ingredients that contain glutamic acid:
- Soy Sauce
- Fermented Bean Paste
- Vegetables (Tomatoes, Carrots, Onion etc).
The following table further illustrates the component of each ingredients.
Natural Umami-Rich Food and Level (mg/100g)
|Katsuobushi / Dried Bonito Flakes|
|Niboshi / Small Dried Sardines||50||863|
|Shrimp / Prawn||43||92|
Ways of combining umami:
The synergistic effect of umami has been put to use in Japanese, Western, Chinese and all kinds of cuisines throughout history.
Japanese : Kombu/Kelp + Dried Bonito Flake
Western: Onion + Leg of Veal
Chinese: Nappa or Leek + Chicken Bones
So what is the purpose of this article? Well, it helps you to understand which ingredients to pair with each other to create a delicious (umami) recipe that everyone will enjoy. It will also help you become a better cook and open your world to endless possibility of new ideas.
I hope this article really help you become a better cook. Have fun in the kitchen!