Umami is the salty or meaty taste of food. The first, glutamate, is an amino acid found in vegetables and meat. Iosinate is found primarily in meat, and guanylate levels are the highest in plants.
Umamitranslates to a pleasant salty flavor and has been described as steamy or meaty.
You can taste umami in foods that contain a high level of the amino acid glutamate, such as Parmesan cheese, seaweed, miso and mushrooms. When Ikeda defined the sensational salty flavor known as umami, he wanted to find a way to market it so that people could apply the same essence to their cooking. The commercialized version of umami was known as monosodium glutamate or MSG. Monosodium glutamate is the sodium salt of glutamic acid, a natural acid found in tomatoes, grapes, cheese and mushrooms.
Part of the traditional Japanese diet consists of a simple soup broth made with seaweed and perhaps a fish component. And it gives it a very tasty flavor, which is quite pure. It's the basis of many Japanese foods; you see it in things like soy sauce. Glutamate and disodium inosinate have a synergistic effect on each other, increasing the overall umami flavor of foods containing both (2).
As the New Yorker has extensively recounted, Adam Fleischman's Umami Burger hamburger chain is based exclusively on the principle of maximizing umami. Umami has become popular as a flavor among food manufacturers trying to improve the flavor of low-sodium products. The researchers demonstrated that umami was not produced by any combination of other basic flavors, but that it was an independent flavor. While umami is most commonly associated with miso soup, ramen and other Asian dishes, it is also the predominant flavor in ham, raw meat, cured meats and mushrooms.
Umami has been reported to have a mild but long-lasting aftertaste associated with salivation and a feeling of lint on the tongue, which stimulates the throat, roof and back of the mouth. In 1985, the International Umami Symposium held in Hawaii determined that umami was the scientific term for this fifth flavor. Umami Burger, for example, is a chain of restaurants known for its gourmet hamburger with key umami ingredients, such as shiitake mushrooms, fire-roasted tomatoes, caramelized onions, umami tomato sauce and crunchy Parmesan. Breast milk is high in amino acids that provide the flavor of umami, which can cause a person to seek this flavor profile throughout their life.
Some umami-rich foods, such as kombu seaweed or Vegemite or Marmite yeast extracts, may be a little harder to find if there isn't a specialty market nearby. Umami has become so popular that restaurants across the country are taking advantage of its popularity. Umami compounds are normally found in foods that are high in protein, so the taste of umami signals to the body that a food contains protein. If you read labels carefully and eat in moderation, there's nothing wrong with eating foods with high levels of umami flavor.
Nick Lee's World Umami Cooking Contest winning recipe combined ingredients naturally rich in umami, such as kombu, parmigiano reggiano, tomatoes and shiitake mushrooms. Umami means “essence of delight” in Japanese, and its flavor is often described as the meaty, savory treat that deepens flavor. However, I was recently in a grocery store selling “umami” hot sauce and I couldn't imagine what it would taste like or how I would use it.