What Is Umami: The Fifth Taste

by Krystina Quintana

The fifth taste may sound ominous, but it’s what many people refer to umami as. It’s a flavor note beyond the basic tastes (sweet, sour, bitter, and salty). Hence its nickname. This flavor has been around for a while. However, it was not officially recognized as the fifth basic taste until the late 1900s. 

Below, we discuss everything related to this unique taste, including how it came about.

What Is Umami?

As mentioned, umami is a flavor beyond the original four tastes. It was discovered that there was a fifth type of taste receptor on our tongues in the late 1900s/early 2000s – the umami flavor. It's thought that there is a correlation between breast milk and umami since it has amino acids thought to provide the taste. Hence, this event prepping us (and our taste buds) for this flavor since birth.

What Is Umami Flavor? What Are Umami Flavors In Dishes?

Umami is noted as a savory flavor and presents itself as a meaty or brothy taste. As mentioned, it occurs in any food containing glutamate, from plants to meat.

How Do You Get The Umami Flavor?

There are a few different ways you can achieve an umami flavor when cooking. Some of the ways to add this taste to your dishes include the following:

  • Adding umami-rich foods, see below for more details on this note.
  • Adding umami seasoning, like soy sauce, to recipes.
  • Simply including MSG (monosodium glutamate) will boost the umami taste in dishes, as it also uses glutamate to provide flavor.
  • Using cured meats or aged cheeses in your recipes.
  • Including fermented foods in dishes will help boost the dish's "umami-ness."

What Is An Example Of Umami Flavor?

There are many examples of umami flavors ranging from vegetables to protein, dairy, and even condiments. Beef, pork, shellfish, fish, and preserved fish are all examples of the umami taste in everyday foods. While the umami taste is typically associated with Japanese cuisine, the reality is that it's in food found in every country.

What Food Has The Most Umami?

While there are many umami foods available, one of the options that have the most umami is fermented foods. Not all fermented foods have the umami taste, but the ones that do will add a boost of flavor to your life. For example, yogurt and sauerkraut do not offer umami. Most umami-rich fermented foods are common in Asian cuisine. These foods and condiments include kimchi, soy sauce, fish sauce, and miso.

Why Is Umami So Popular?

Since umami is present in so many foods, it’s easy to see why umami is so popular. Here are a few additional details on this flavor.

Umami History

Umami was officially discovered 110 years ago by a Japanese scientist who noticed that his kombu dashi, aka seaweed broth, had a distinct flavor different from sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. He named the flavor umami, meaning "essence of deliciousness" or "pleasant savory taste." Later, this same scientist found a correlation between foods having the amino acid glutamate and an umami taste.

Umami’s Popularity In Japan And Beyond

Since Japan’s chefs have been aware of the umami flavor long before it was recognized in the western world, it has become a staple in many Japanese recipes. The original Japanese scientist who discovered and named this taste also created MSG, hence why many Asian recipes use this ingredient.

However, umami is found in many other cuisines. Italian food features tomatoes and aged cheese, two of the most umami-rich foods. Mexican cuisine uses dried meat, another food full of umami flavor. In France, many dishes use a consommé, also an umami-rich ingredient. 

Common Umami Flavor Foods

Some of the most umami-rich foods include mushrooms, tomatoes, miso, soy sauce, and parmesan cheese. Typically, foods with a meaty or brothy flavor have an umami taste.

How to Try Umami Flavor

We bet you're wondering how to include more umami in your life! As mentioned, you can include umami-rich foods in your life. Try the Bokksu Premium Umami Bundle for all things umami-related. This bundle includes delightful umami-flavored snacks like rice crackers, chips, ramen, miso soup, and more! Packed with 16 yummy umami items, you can’t go wrong with this umami bundle.

Still need more umami in your life? On the Umami Dashi Powder: Variety Mix is a seasoning pack with five different varieties of dashi powder, all offering a delightful umami taste. You can use these seasonings for everything from soup to noodles and rice dishes.

Author Bio

Krystina Quintana is a 29-year-old copywriter living outside of Chicago, IL. Her passion for Asian culture began at a young age as she learned to create Asian-inspired recipes like homemade sushi with her family. This interest in Asian culture continues today with time spent in the kitchen and copywriting pursuits. Krystina has worked with customers ranging from small businesses to food Youtubers with 70,000+ subscribers. With a passion for food and travel, she seeks to help businesses bring traffic to their page by writing blog posts that are engaging, informative, and fun to read.