Umami is one of the five fundamental tastes including sour, bitter, sweet, and salty. It’s a staple in Japanese cuisine but is found in dishes all around the world.
Umami translates from Japanese to “essence of deliciousness”, and is described as a meaty, savory flavor. It’s most commonly found in seafood, meat, mushrooms, cheese, seaweed, tomatoes, and many others. An amino called “glutamate” is what creates the umami flavor, hence why MSG (monosodium glutamate) is commonly added to dishes for an umami boost.
What Goes Well with Umami
Japanese cuisine is the prime example of balancing umami among other flavors. Many different ingredients containing umami are combined to make the taste easily recognizable.
Miso soup and seaweed
Miso soup is made by making miso paste from soybeans, then mixing it with scallions, seaweed, and tofu. All of these ingredients are rich in delicious umami but can lead to high sodium levels in miso soup. This high level of sodium is balanced out by the seaweed, which can reduce sodium levels in your body.
Pork cutlet and cabbage
Japanese pork cutlet is also known as Tonkatsu by combining the word “ton” (meaning pork) and “katsu” which is short for “katsuretsu” (meaning cutlet or meat chop).
In Japan, tonkatsu is almost always served with shredded cabbage. Both ingredients are rich in umami, and the cabbage even includes vitamin U which can help keep you from getting a stomach ache.
Tofu and bonito flakes
Tofu is made of mashed soybeans and while having a mostly neutral flavor, is still very rich in umami. Bonito flakes (fermented and smoked skipjack tuna) contain an amino acid called methionine, which can help maintain your hair color with age. Combine these together and you have a healthy combination that’s typically served as a side dish to a Japanese meal.
Yuzu jam and cheese
Yuzu jam is a type of marmalade made from yuzu citrus fruits, water, and sugar. Its tangy, sweet flavor can be mixed with aged cheeses such as goat cheese for a huge boost of umami and to add a savory balance to dishes.
Is Umami Bad for Your Health
While it may seem too good to be true, umami is actually important for your health, especially for elderly people. The belief that MSG is an unhealthy addition to your food is widely held across the globe but is not necessarily true.
Foods rich in umami can be used to lower the salt level in dishes without ruining the flavor. This is especially helpful for people with a low-sodium diet. It can also be used to make sweet dishes taste even sweeter without adding more sugar.
According to researchers at BioMed Central, Umami taste receptors are also reported to exist in the gut, which means that foods rich in umami may help to aid digestion and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Umami not only adds deep complexity of flavor to a dish but it’s also one of the core five flavors. From a meaty, savory broth to a healthy miso soup, umami can find a place in most dishes around the world.
If you’re looking to cut some salt or sugar out of your diet, consider adding some ingredients that are rich in umami to the mix to not only make up for the flavor lost but add a whole new layer of deliciousness.