December 18, 2019

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Most of us grew up learning that there are four basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. In recent years, “umami” has become a buzzword flying about, adding a whole new taste dimension to your palette. You’ve probably heard the word from chefs and judges on cooking shows, but what does “umami” actually mean?

The Fifth Taste

Umami has been nicknamed the “fifth taste,” and the word first appeared when Ikeda Kikunae, a Tokyo University professor, was studyingkombu seaweed broth. He found that kombu couldn’t fall into the four categories of taste, and thus created a new word,umami (旨味; literally “good flavor”). Of course, this isn’t to say that umami didn’t exist before Professor Ikeda wrote about it! There just wasn’t a word for it until then, but umami has existed through the centuries in miso soup broths, tomato-rich pastas in Italy, and fish-sauce-based dishes from Southeast Asia.

Ikeda broke it down in his 1908 paper that umami comes from glutamate, a substance found in a variety of foods, including meats, fish, and certain vegetables. Others would come after him to write about more substances that create umami, including inosinic acid found in bonito flakes (the paper-likefish flakes you see on top of takoyaki).

Let’sbreak down umami into three aspects:

  1. A full mouth experience that spreads across the entire tongue. This is in comparison tothe other basic tastes. For example, sweetness is detected on the tip of the tongue, versus bitterness on the back of the tongue.
  2. A flavor that lingers in the mouth is umami.
  3. Umami triggers salivation, which helps us taste our food. Umami is thought to promote salivation for a longer period of time, adding to the mouth-watering experience.

Umami may be a little tricky to define, but we’re sure you can get a sense for it with some foods you may already be familiar with! Check outsome umami-packed savory snacks below.

kobu kaki rice cracker

Seaweed

We keep talking about it, so it’s only natural that we start with kombu, a type of kelp or seaweed that is a staple in Japanese cooking. Kombu shines asa key ingredient in these savory rice crackers speckled with seaweed. The umami is further enhanced with soy sauce, creating an addicting flavor.

seaweed tempura with sudachi

You’re probably used to seeing seaweed wrapped around sushi rolls, but it’s also a delicious snack on its own! Try it out for yourself withfried seaweed sheets flavored with sudachi citrus fruit. The contrast of umami with a tart flavor creates a unique flavor profile that is sure to leave an impact on your taste buds!

Seafood

The sea is overflowing with umami-rich foods that are often incorporated in Japanese savory rice cracker snacks.

ebi crunch black pepper
uni okaki rice cracker

Shrimp chips are a classic Japanese snack, but why not step it up a notch withEbi Crunch Black Pepper, a spicy variation of this crunchy treat? As if that wasn’t enough to tantalize your taste buds, this version is made with sakura ebi, a rare shrimp that can only be harvested twice a year!

Uni, or sea urchin, may be unfamiliar and a bit intimidating to some, but it’s one of our favorites! Uni itself has a savory flavor and buttery texture, without being too fishy. Get a taste for it witha buttery rice cracker fried to perfection and drizzled with uni-flavored sauce.

Soy Sauce

Umami flavor is enhanced as food items are aged, so that’s why fermented foods such as cheese and cured meats pack a punch on your taste buds. Soy sauce is made of fermented soybeans and is therefore rich in umami.

mushroom chips butter soy sauce

Tonkatsu sauce is made with soy sauce and various vegetables and fruits, including tomatoes and apples, to create a layered flavor profile that has a bit of umami, sweet, and savory. This condiment is often used to flavor fried dishes likeyakisoba noodles. Get a taste of it withDondon Yaki, a rice cracker marinated in tonkatsu sauce.

mushroom chips

Interestingly enough, dried mushrooms are bursting with umami flavor. Check out thesemushroom chips, amply seasoned with butter and soy sauce, that will leave you drooling! With a light texture that crunches like potato chips, it’s a challenge not to devour this bag in seconds.

Sign On for a Savory Snack Subscription

Is your mouth watering? Discover even moresavory snacks bursting with umami flavor through a Bokksu Japanese snack box subscription. If you have any questions about our snacks or would like to learn more about the many exciting Japanese snack flavors,reach out to our team of snack experts.

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Danny Taing
Danny Taing

Danny is the Founder of Bokksu, which is the culmination of his passions for delicious foods and Japanese culture. He spent four years living and working in Japan, where he often traveled to different regions and tried as many local snacks as he could find.