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Jul 16, 2007 11:19 AM

Japanese Word For [Moved from SF Bay Area]

We're having a discussion here in the office, and there is a Japanese word, u something, that refers to a food that hits or satisfies all points of the palate, a balance and sweet, salt, etc. What's that word, Chow hounds?

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  1. I think it's umami. But someone else will be sure.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Marsha

      Marsha, Marsha, Marsha (I'm sure you get that a lot!) I think you're right, but not sure. Anyone else?

    2. Definitely not umami (same word in English), that's the "fifth taste" found in aged cheese, mushrooms, and various other foods.

      5 Replies
      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        No, it's definitely UMAMI. Before any scientific research on taste and the borrowing of the terminology, the word umami has existed in the Japanese language for who knows how long. The way it's used by laypeople (i.e., people outside the scientific community and food professionals) is exactly how the OP described it. Umami is mostly used to describe balance and brighter taste sensation. Consider how adding salt to some foods doesn't make it salty, but wakes the flavors up. The Japanese refer to that as raising the umami levels.

        It seems that the word UMAMI has been usurped in the English speaking world by the scientific community, so it's easy to think it's something as narrow as the "fifth taste", but in the native Japanese, it's used much more broadly.

        1. re: E Eto

          Maybe you're thinking of "umai"?

          The word "umami" was coined by a Japanese chemistry professor, Kikunae Ikeda, in 1908.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            Nope, I'm thinking of UMAMI. Try watching Japanese cooking shows or cooking variety shows and listen to how the term is used all over the place. It's not used the way you think it is. No one thinks of it in terms of taste receptors or physiology. Like I said, in the common Japanese lexicon, it is used much more broadly than taste researchers or the originators of the word (thanks for that link, by the way) treat it. I know you (and taste researchers) want to be really specific about what umami refers to, but given a century of use, the Japanese language has been able to absorb its meaning into a wider array of uses. Just like we use the word "cool" to mean many different things.

            1. re: E Eto

              Interesting. I suspect that Japanese chefs use the term precisely. I know that Masaharu Morimorto does.

              This wasn't some abstract laboratory research project. Ikeda intuited from eating that there was a fifth component to taste that was not salty, sweet, sour, or bitter, and did research to figure out what it was.

          2. re: E Eto

            I too thought the word was UMAMI, as that's how my mother uses that word. Not just for savoury, but for the overall effect/taste/flavour of food.

        2. Here is a quote from the online sire, The Physiology of Taste:
          "We have an absolute need for protein, and amino acids are the building blocks for proteins, so the "new" taste quality umami (pronounced: oo-marmi) which is the meaty, savoury taste drives our appetite for amino acids. This taste has been known to the Japanese for a long time - but has only recently been recognised by the West. Bacon really hits our umami receptors because it is a rich source of amino acids."

            1. re: kimcheesoup

              That first one says, "glutamic acid, which both people and dogs experience as umami (a Japanese word for one of our five basic tastes, meaning meaty)."

              The second one says, "There is a fifth taste that the Japanese have had in their vocabularly forever but has never been in ours, hence the use of the Japanese word, umami." (As noted above the word was actually coined in 1908.)

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                sorry, i mis-typed the first time
                i meant to put
                pretty sure its *not* unami......

                i was busy the first time i wrote it..... but at the same time, maybe that IS the word? i'll as some friends from japan...

                1. re: kimcheesoup

                  From the above posts it pretty definitely is umami, which in everyday usage in Japan seems to have evolved a long way from the original meaning.