What is Umami?

Umami Meaning

‘Umami’ is the savory taste of amino acids and nucleotides, which occur naturally in protein-rich foods.

It is one of the five basic tastes, along with:

  • Salty
  • Sweet
  • Sour
  • Bitter

The word ‘umami’ derives its meaning from the Japanese words ‘umai’ (delicious) and ‘mi’ (taste).

Umami Components

Umami Component Free (Unbound) Form Salt FormBound Form
Amino AcidGlutamic AcidMonosodium glutamateProtein chain
NucleotideInosinic AcidDisodium inosinateDNA molecule
Umami components in their free (unbound) and salt forms

Taste buds register the ‘umami’ taste when they detect free (unbound) amino acids and nucleotides or their salt forms.

However, when amino acids merge into protein chains or nucleotides form DNA molecules, they lose their savory taste.

Role of Umami Ingredients in Cooking

Umami ingredients make foods more ‘meaty’ or ‘savory’. This enhanced flavor can reduce the sodium quantity without sacrificing flavor.

How to Enhance Umami Taste

Enhancing dishes with umami flavors requires increasing the free amino acid and nucleotide content.

For example, proteolysis The breakdown of large proteins into smaller proteins or flavorful amino acids. Techniques to speed up proteolysis can make food more tender and tastier.
More info on proteolysis
increases umami taste by breaking down proteins into amino acids.

But since proteolysis is requires higher temperatures or time. adding umami ingredients may be a more practical approach.

Umami Ingredients

There are many forms of umami ingredients, from fresh foods, produce, to commercially available spices, or aged/fermented foods.

While food manufacturers may already include umami additives, most of them are also readily available.

Umami Salts

  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Disodium inosinate

Umami Additives

  • Yeast Extract
  • Nutritional Yeast

Animal-Based Umami Proteins

  • Seafood
  • Meat
  • Poultry

Plant-Based Umami Ingredients

  • Kelp
  • Mushrooms
  • Tomato products

Fermented Umami Ingredients

  • Aged cheese
  • Soy sauce
  • Fish sauce
  • Miso
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