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What is Umami? Where can you find it?

The so-called "Umami", also known as the fifth taste, sparks curiosity wherever it's mentioned. But how can we understand what it tastes like if it doesn't taste like anything we know? Let's try to unravel it.

We've all grown up knowing four tastes: salty, sweet, sour, and bitter. You recognize all of them, right? Well, what you may not have known is that humans are capable of recognizing five (according to what we know to date). The fifth, the one you're trying to imagine, is the taste of "Umami."

Since it's not related to anything we can represent in terms of taste, it's as challenging to recognize as it is to explain. But once understood, you'll find Umami everywhere.

Its History:

The word is Japanese and, in broad terms, it means "delicious." Apparently, the person who began to coin this term was the Japanese Kikunae Ikeda, to describe foods with a very intense and delicious flavor that, just by their presence, enhance the taste of others.

It was in the year 1908 when this scientist discovered that the pronounced flavor of the broth from boiling Kombu seaweed was due to "monosodium glutamate," also called ajinomoto. Kikunae noticed that the flavor of glutamate was unlike any of the four known tastes. That's when he labeled the taste of this flavor-enhancing powder as Umami. Hence, ajinomoto or glutamate is considered practically pure Umami.

Where Will You Find Umami in Foods?

Gradually, the fifth taste has been detected in many foods that are already part of our lives. Some examples include cured ham (yes, that intense flavor it has is the taste of Umami!), cheese, anchovies, ripe tomatoes, and soy sauce.

In addition to being different from the tastes we knew, although we might have been sensing it without giving it a name, Umami has been studied for enhancing the flavor of the ingredients it mixes with. A good example is when we enrich a stew or broth with a ham bone. We are intensifying the overall flavor of the dish (adding more Umami) and not just giving it the flavor of the specific ingredient, which in this case would be the ham.

This happens, like the best things in life, due to a matter of chemistry.

Matcha Tea, a Source of Umami:

One of the most potent sources of Umami that we can find among the foods available in the West is matcha tea. When it is of ceremonial quality and has been harvested following the artisanal process, its velvety and intense flavor brings us a wave of Umami.

Now that you know where to find the fifth taste, we're confident you'll perceive it, at the very least, once a day.
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