What is Umami?

Food and Drinks

We are hearing this “Umami” word more often these days. Do you really know what it is?!
I looked up a dictionary, and it said “Umami” is one of the five basic tastes alongside bitter, sweet, salty and sour, and it described as savory taste. Well, I can easily imagine the tastes of bitter, sour, salty, and sour but not savory so much.

The word “Umami” came from Japan.

In Japan, dried kelp was used for making dashi broth and the broth used in many Japanese dishes from long time before.

While scientist Kikune Ikeda was eating dinner with his family, he noticed that there is a taste which is different from the four basic tastes(bitter, sweet, salty and sour). After stirring the soup few times, he realized the flavor came from Kombu(dried kelp). He studied the compounds in Kombu(kelp) that his wife used making soup, and discovered that glut ate in the kombu was responsible for the taste and named it “Umami” in the early 1900’s. Subsequent Japanese scientists discovered other foods that contained the chemical elements of umami.

Where can we find “Umami”?

The three major components of umami are, inosinate, guanylate, and glutamate. There are many foods that naturally have umami profile built in it. Let’s see what kind of foods contain what umami component.

Insosinate is found in meat and fish, and guanylate can be found in mushroom such as dried shiitake mushroom. Glutamate is found in most foods such as meat, fish, vegetables, beans, dairy products and fermented products.

Umami is mild taste and usually it’s not good if you don’t combine with others.
Think about taking a spoonful of umami ingredients such as soy sauce, dashi broth, fish sauce or miso itself… We wouldn’t want that. But if you combine those with right ingredients, that would change everything. It’s chemistry. When glutamate is combined with insinuate or guanylate, umami comes to the sense.

Umami ingredients easily add to a dish to enhance the flavor!

Soy Sauce
Oyster Sauce
Dashi Broth (Soup stock used in Japanese dish)
Pickled Vegetables

Umami is the one that makes your mouth water!


  1. I love the Japanese culture. It’s so rich in vibrant history and the Japanese people are some of the quirkiest people. I can’t wait to come back to Japan.