We have been reading about umami, Japanese for delicious and there is a lot of discussion as to whether this product is nothing more than enhanced MSG. So I have found the following articles, among many, that try to describe the product. I have stayed away from articles written by suppliers for obvious reasons. Enjoy!
Umami, savory ‘fifth taste,’ now available in a tube in grocery stores
By Issie Lapowski
DAILY NEWS Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 9th 2010, 11:16 AM
One of the tastes known to man, including sweet, sour, salty and bitter, it is the “fifth taste,” umami, that has been most difficult to pinpoint – until now.
According to Britain’s Telegraph, the United Kingdom’s supermarket chain Waitrose will begin selling umami – associated with savory flavors found in mushrooms and some cheeses – in paste form beginning next week. The paste will be called “Taste No. 5” and will be distributed in 197 Waitrose stores, as well as another food chain, Booths.
For the last 102 years, since its discovery by Japanese scientists, umami has remained an elusive taste, more familiar to scientists than to chefs. For this reason “Taste No. 5” creator Laura Santtini decided to take umami out of the laboratory and into the kitchen.
“I wanted to get away from the notion that umami is something of interest to scientists that no one else can really understand,” she tells the Telegraph. “The truth is that umami should be of interest to anyone who has a tongue.”
To achieve this taste, Santtini used ingredients like anchovies and porcini mushrooms. “Umami is part of our everyday eating lives, it is just that many of us don’t know what to call it. It is what gives depth of flavour to food,” she says. “Every food culture has its umami-rich ingredients, whether it is seaweed in Japan or Parmesan in Italy.”
According to a 2000 study out of the University of Miami, the human tongue possesses receptors that only react to glutamate, a chemical commonly found in savory foods. This means that the tongue is pre-programmed to crave umami.
Representatives from Waitrose say they’re anxious to observe customer reactions: “It’s only recently that a tangible product related to the fifth taste has become available. We believe our customers will relish the chance to explore it.”
Tasting Table National
Fri. 22 Oct ’10
Spread It Around
A new wonder paste will save your dish
We’ve all had the unhappy experience of trying cooking shortcuts that make great claims about enhancing flavors only to find that they’re not always trustworthy (ahem, MSG). We’ve also been known to use less controversial quick fixes in an attempt to speed the cooking process, then pay the price for such weakness–as though some karmic cooking law were punishing us for our sloth.
We gave Taste #5 Umami Paste a chance, however, partly because it’s the brainchild of Laura Santtini, a British cook and food writer, and partly because it captures the elusive flavor of umami–the so-called fifth taste elucidated by Japanese scientists.
The tube holds an earthy amalgam of umami-loaded savories–olive, anchovy, porcini mushroom and Parmesan cheese, among others–in a robustly flavored, concentrated paste.
Sampled on its own, the stuff overwhelmed every last taste bud we had. But it rounded out the edges of many dishes we introduced it to: Rubbed on steak, stirred into a risotto or used as the base of a pasta sauce or salad dressing, it added a nuanced richness that smacked of extra time spent in the kitchen.
We even tried using it as a Band-Aid for a roast chicken gaffe with impressive results–mixed with pan juices, it helped create a gravy that masked dry white meat. And best of all, since the paste is made from actual foods rather than multisyllabic chemicals, there’s no reason to fear judgment from the cooking gods.
11 Feb 2010
by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words
If you’re fed up with the same old meat and two veg or pasta and tomato sauce, and the weekly run of familiar meals holds no excitement for you, then fear not, help may be at hand. Enter umami – a new flavour sensation which has the potential to rescue your tastebuds from the effects of culinary drudgery.
Umami is often described as the ‘fifth taste’ because it complements the conventional taste categories that the human tongue is said to detect: sweet, sour, salty and bitter.
Umami is a pleasant savoury taste produced by glutamate and ribonucleotides, chemicals which occur naturally in many foods including meat, fish and dairy products. Umami is subtle and not generally identified by people when they encounter it, but blends well with other tastes to intensify and enhance flavours. It therefore plays an important role in making food taste delicious. If it helps to visualize, a familiar example of the umami taste in action is parmesan cheese, maybe not as appetising as some cheeses when eaten on its own, but creating a delicious taste sensation when sprinkled on a dish of steaming spaghetti bolognese.
Umami is often described as the ‘fifth taste’ because it complements the conventional taste categories that the human tongue is said to detect: sweet, sour, salty and bitter. It ties in with the increasingly popular belief that taste is more complicated than originally perceived, relating to a combination of sensations such as the feel and sound of food when chewing, its smell, and even the emotional circumstances when eating.
Though umami can be experienced by simply combining ingredients that work well together – such as combinations of meat, tomatoes, garlic and cheese – hey, it’s the 21st century, and so we can buy the ‘convenience’ version! In February 2010, Waitrose became the first British supermarket to sell tubes of the aptly and transparently named ‘Taste No 5’. The creation of chef and food writer Laura Santtini, Taste No 5 is a paste made from umami-rich foods such as tomatoes, parmesan cheese, anchovies, garlic and porcini mushrooms. It claims to act as a ‘flavour bomb’ when added to any savoury dish.
Background to the identification of the umami taste from umami foods
The term umami was coined by Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda when he first identified the concept in 1908. Ikeda analysed the active ingredients in kelp (seaweed) stock, an indispensable part of Japanese cuisine, discovering that the delicious taste was linked to glutamate. He found that this taste was also present in other savoury foods, including those used in Western cuisine, like tomatoes, cheese and meat. In 1912, addressing an international congress in applied chemistry in Washington, Ikeda stated that:
‘Those who pay careful attention to their tastebuds will discover in the complex flavour of asparagus, tomatoes, cheese and meat, a common and yet absolutely singular taste which cannot be called sweet, or sour, or salty, or bitter …’
However it wasn’t until the 1980s that, following a series of scientific studies, the umami taste was officially recognized as a legitimate fifth taste. Opinions vary as to the precise translation of the word umami, but the best approximation I’ve been able to find is something like ‘savoury deliciousness’.