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Ever heard of.....

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 
Has anyone heard of Unami? I just got a book on it from subscribing on their website. Very Very Interesting.... The question is does anyone really use this besides me when we cook. I try to layer as many of the elements when I cook.
post #2 of 11
Do you mean "umami?" what translates from the Japanese as "delicious flavor"? I've heard it described in western terms as richness or full flavor.

It's an interesting notion, but I don't really think about it as I cook and develop recipes. Or maybe I do. When developing a recipe, I try to think ahead of time about which flavor notes do I want to make the boldest statement, then about what kind of underlying flavors should I use to support the initial tone. And then what will be the finishing note.
It all kind of falls into the Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet trail of flavor that ends up being what's known as Umami.

For me, I guess it's more of an intuitive process than a conscious one, but I'd love to know the title of the book you mentioned.

Liquored up and laquered down,
She's got the biggest hair in town!


Liquored up and laquered down,
She's got the biggest hair in town!

post #3 of 11
Hi Chef Matt; If you mean "Umami", then yes I have heard of it, just learned about it recently. It apparently is a shiny new name for MSG. I know about it because I am alergic to it LOL!! I hope you find out more about it, and use it very cautiously.:D
post #4 of 11
I have my doubts about Umami as a truly distinct flavor detected on the tongue in the same way as the standard four tastes are. I don't doubt that people can distinguish it though in normal eating.

While that may sound contradictory, there are aspects of our senses that are culturally trained. For example, in the West, we use the the mnemonic ROYGBIV for the order of the colors of the spectrurm. I have some difficulty picking out the distinction of Indigo from a prism or rainbow. Russians though pick out more distinctions in the blue area breaking it into a light and dark blue while also maintaining indigo as a distinct color. They are culturally trained to make that distinction.

Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
post #5 of 11
Not so new actually...

The term was coined around 1908 by Kikunae Ikeda an scientist in Tokyo. He was experimenting with seaweed, adding it to various foods and trying to understand why things taste the way they do. Only later did this lead to the development of MSG, which was meant to deliver the 'on-steroid' version of whatever you're adding it to.
post #6 of 11
It's not actually a flavor, and it doesn't use normal taste-buds, but is a process where specialized MSG receptors sense MSG, then produce a neurotransmitter, which enhances the transmission of other flavors from the tongue.

post #7 of 11
Glutamic acid is naturally present in a lot of foods . . perhaps higher concentrations or the form in MSG are what makes it different there?

(Hoping Luc_H will respond to this thread).
post #8 of 11
Thread Starter 
The book is called " The Fifth Taste of Human Being Umami The World"

isbn # 1-897701-23-3

Try to track it down through It only has a UK price of 2.99, so if you can't track it down let me know maybe I could send it to you? I received it free from them; I think you join the website and then you get the book. For whom do you write?
post #9 of 11
a couple of years ago I ate at Umami in Hudson Valley....the definition was on the wall in big print in the foyer.
cooking with all your senses.....
cooking with all your senses.....
post #10 of 11
Umami is officially considered a basic taste detected by the tongue. It is the fifth known and accepted taste.
the other four are: Salty, sweet, acidic and bitter.
All other <flavour> are detected by the nose by the volatility of the compound. Exception: hot which is actually a pain sensation not a taste or smell.

It is now accepted that taste buds cannot be mapped on the tongue like previously thought but are located more or less evenly.

Umami means savoury/meaty in Japanese. Something has umami characteristics when it contains a relatively high amount of free amino acids or broken down proteins. There are 20 amino acids that are the building block of proteins so high protein foods tend to have or develop umami. The best amino acid to convey umami flavour characteristics is Glutamic acid which, in the presence of salt, become monosodium glutamate or MSG. Umami can be best described as the difference in taste between a steak and a slowly simmered stew. the stew is actually meatier tasting. The difference between simmered beans and refried beans.

Umami is what makes cheese, ketchup, soya sauce great flavour accompaniment (they are natural flavour enhancers).
Cheese particularly highly acidic and dried ones like Parmesan contain highly digested (hydrolyzed) milk proteins.
Ketchup is manufactured from ripe red tomatoes that contain lots of naturally occurring glutamate.
Soya sauce is fermented (digested/hydrolyzed) soy proteins again high in free amino acid hence high in Umami.

MSG is very easy to manufacture either by fermentation of by chemical synthesis.

Breast milk contains high amounts of free amino acids particularly high amounts of Glutamate. Glutamate (MSG) is believe to open up the appetite of the feeding infant. (a comforting feeling).

Rats fed high amounts of MSG become obese and are appropriately named MSG-Obese rats which are used for obesity studies.

Carnivorous animals like dogs and cats have a lot of Umami like taste buds (maybe why dogs like cheese) on their tongues.

My personal theory is we have evolved Umami receptors to detect high protein foods since we are omnivores we share some carnivorous traits. Like most tastes (like salty, sweet and even acidic), umami is prone to make us become addicted. I believe MSG is a potentially addictive chemical. The fact it is so potent and cheap makes an unhealthy combination in process food and may explain, in part, the obesity rates in the developed world.

Hidden sources of MSG in food:
Hydrolyzed vegetable protein, dehydrated meat, tomato powder, tomato extract, autolyzed yeast extract, Torula yeast, fermented milk ingredients, cheese, soya sauce, Inositate + guanylate (these are DNA fragments also very Umami). Those are the most common but many others exist.

Oh and by the way, glutamate is also a known brain neurotransmitter. The literature is divided on whether high amounts of MSG in our diet could affect behaviour.

Luc H.
I eat science everyday, do you?
I eat science everyday, do you?
post #11 of 11
I guess in our past as a species, there wasn't an overabundance of proteins as there is in the "developed" world now. Now with a different environment, amino acids (protein building blocks) are one thing we can easily get too much of, hmm.

Luc_H I was hoping you'd respond. Thank you.
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