HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


Umami - "The Fifth Taste"


Interesting article in today's WSJ about this. What struck me particular is that it lists many of my husband's favorite foods - listed in the link under "Umami Boosters":

Soy Sauce

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. fish sauce is a booster too. my "secret ingredient" for blah soups!

    1. I have long thought there is this 5th taste, and I have the major craving for it. Cheese, and mushrooms are two of my basic food groups. WHile a box of salt will last me for years, I go throught several bottles of soy sauce and fish sauce in a year.

      Good article. I sorta feel like I can come outa the closet now.

      1. Thank you for linking that article, MMRuth! I have read about umami in other publications. It explains my almost sinful addiction to Worcestershire sauce...on plain boiled rice. Shhhh....no one should know.

        Interestingly, I remember watching Martin Yan on his now long lost cooking show. He frequently used a dash of ketchup here and there to boost flavor, and in lieu of tomato paste.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Gio

          Agreed! Thank you so much for pointing out that interesting WSJ article, MMRuth! Interesting about umami possibly being a hard-wired taste.

          Some help, please? I cannot get the Umami Boosters sidebar/pic/image to load. Have tried 10 times. Would someone please post the complete list?...MMRuth listed a few above. Thanks.

          1. re: maria lorraine

            Soy Sauce
            Dried Mushrooms
            Slow Cooking

        2. Thanks, that was an interesting read.

          1. Not only was that a great article, but the recipes looked grate as well. I'm going to try that Balsamic Marinated Chicken. Thanks!

            1. Finaly! I have been wracking my brain trying to remember where I had seen a similar article. It was in the New York Times last year. I agree with the other poster that Fish Sauce has it, as does chef David Burke. I may need to start a new topic just for fish sauce in all its forms. Anyway, I really enjoyed thei NYT article:


              1. Heading over to that article now.... I just wanted to mention that my favorite umami-booster is ground dried mushrooms. I picked up several little grinders with dried portabella, but I'll have to refill soon. Anyway, the mushroom powder adds that "it needs something" savory flavor to soups, pasta sauces, vegetables, etc.

                2 Replies
                  1. re: juster

                    Thanks for the correction, and now that I've read it, I concur it's a great cooking trick.
                    One of my coffee grinders is devoted to grinding dried porcini and spices -- and I've often added the porcini powder to risotto, soups, stews, pasta sauces, even to fresh pasta itself. Regarding fresh pasta, one of my most successful and flavorful fresh pastas that I ever made used ground porcini powder in lieu of part of the flour. The sauce used both fresh and dried porcini, porcini powder, and chesnuts. An umami cascade and oh so delicioso.

                1. ajinomoto ! or I sould say MSG ? this stuff is really enhance flavor instantly.
                  granulated white powder.

                  when I was kid, when there was nothing interesting meal on the table,
                  I ate raw egg mix with little bit of soy sauce & ajinomoto, pour over piping hot white rice.
                  sound weired for western country people,

                  It is good. I don't eat this anymore. but If I was in japan, I might try it.
                  (there is no problem eating raw eggs in japan )

                  I have never hard that MSG is but stuff in japan.

                  I think UMAMI is very basic flavor of Japanese cuisine .
                  DASHI is the umami it self.
                  KOMBU ( sea weed ) ,dried bonito flakes,some other dried fish( mainly sardin I guess)
                  mushroom ( especially shiitake ) dry or fresh it add grate flavor .
                  everything has high umami level.

                  stock made out of these, uses so many different way.

                  also kombu cooked with vege or meat.
                  shredded bonito sprinkle on tofu ,boild vege or so many things.
                  may be miso is high umami food,too.

                  It' almost strange or funny ? to hear that Parmesan cheese,ketchup is umami food.
                  but that's just not familiar to eastern country
                  ( of course we use regularly but not staple food )

                  but now I am using them all the time !

                  1. my 2 favorite healthy umami boosters - neither of which was mentioned in the article - are bragg's liquid aminos and nutritional yeast flakes.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                      Yes, both are good. I use braggs to make a quick cup of broth to sip.

                    2. I have to clarify one thing about this article - MSG. So it's a natural type ingredient? It's not to be avoided? I try to avoid it, but only because I have eaten at chinese restaurants before and left feeling very sleepy, so I thought it was the MSG. Now, I'm not so sure! What do you all think?

                      17 Replies
                      1. re: danhole

                        Danhole, you're on to something. Umami is the Japanese word for glutamate, an amino acid that shows up in a zillion foods like aged cheese, mushrooms, tomatoes, soy sauce, chicken, duck, beef, pork, fish, peas and corn. The salt (think sodium) of glutamate is monosodium glutamate, MSG. If you can eat any of the above foodstuffs without a reaction, you can eat MSG.

                        According to the International Food Information Council, we eat 11 parts naturally occurring glutamates to one part monosodium glutamate each day.

                        There is no allergy to MSG or to glutamates, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. An enormous amount of bad information -- misleading information -- about MSG is out there.

                        MSG has been wrongly blamed for some sort of distress or reaction after eating Chinese food. But it's not the culprit. Something else is. Something that is also in Chinese food.

                        As you may imagine, MSG has been extensively discussed on Chowhound.
                        Here are some of the most informative threads:


                        1. re: maria lorraine

                          Thanks, Maria, for clearing that up. I love parmesan cheese, aged cheeses, and most of the things you listed, and never have reacted to them, so I will stop harping at my daughter for using Accent on her meats! According to the other threads, we all consume a fair amount of MSG every day, but for some reason the blame falls on chinese food. Wonder what it is? It doesn't always affect me, but once in awhile it does, but as I stated, I just get very drowsy, nothing else.

                          1. re: danhole

                            Even though MSG has been unfairly maligned, I doubt I would encourage anyone to use it on their food. Seasoning meat properly -- basic salt and freshly cracked pepper -- and browning meat are two methods that create hearty, satisfying flavor in meats.

                            1. re: maria lorraine

                              In my brain, it's the Sodium in MSG that gets the bad rap. People in my family have genetic HBP.... soooooo.... low salt/sodium is mandated.
                              We find other ways to compensate.

                              1. re: Gio

                                I have had HBP from time to time, and I can recall several instances where my heart and head pounded after eating Chinese food. I chalked it up to the possible use of some sort of additive by the restaurant (possibly MSG). Could it have been just high salt? I didn't want to think so... but who knows?

                                1. re: vvvindaloo

                                  OK, here's my guess...(I do a ton of research in this field)...

                                  In my post above, I said that MSG has been wrongly blamed for some sort of distress or reaction after eating Chinese food.

                                  But it's not the culprit. Something else is. Something that is also in Chinese food.

                                  My guess is that something is...TYRAMINES...

                                  Tyramines are in a ridiculous number of Asian foods: soy sauce, tofu/bean curd, miso, teriyaki, fish or shrimp paste, broth, anything aged, dried, fermented, salted, smoked or pickled. And beer.

                                  Ingestion of tyramines, especially a lot of them from a number of different sources, causes a hypertensive response -- increased heart rate, blood pressure and associated headache -- as well as a delayed adrenaline release.

                                  My guess is that this reaction has been wrongly attributed to MSG.
                                  Chinese Restaurant Syndrome may be caused by a glut of tyramines.

                                  This is the focus of a lot of current research, that has widely been reported
                                  in the press lately. I've been working directly with the scientists who are
                                  currently researching biogenic amines (the subject of my research -- tyramines is one of these).

                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                    Tyramines, eh? I find that a very intriguing theory. In fact, I was at a pub with some friends just this past weekend, when several of my companions remarked how red my face became as I drank hard cider. Now I have a new subject to look into! Thanks for your insight.

                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                      I am not so sure.... MSG is commonly blamed for migraines... my wife certainly gets them. Its pretty clear to us.... we eat lots of Thai, Japanese... as well as Vietnamese & Korean... but rarely go to Chinese together (because she will predictably get migranes).

                                      Its not just Chinese, however, MSG can be used in copius amounts in American "Diner" cooking as well as packaged goods (check out Ranch Dressing & Doritos)... however with the packaged goods she usually just gets a headache... one time we ate at one of those mid level burger chains... and she got a bad migraine... I went back the next day and verified that their burger sauce, dressings & other foods all contain MSG.

                                      With regards the general biogenic amines angle... she does get headaches from Liquid Aminos... but no migraines yet.

                                      1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                        There's a huge correlation between ingestion of tyramines and migraine.

                                        Whether the result is a headache or full-blown migraine may depend on how many tyramines are ingested. Check out the tyramine content of foods (Google is helpful here) and you might be surprised how many of those foods also contain MSG.

                                        I'm sorry your wife suffers from migraines. They're a terrible ordeal to endure.

                                        1. re: maria lorraine

                                          Maria... it just struck me... they reason why my wife doesn't usually get migranes from ranch dressing (MSG but no Tyramines) or from Thai, Viet or Korean cuisine (Tyramines but no MSG) is that it might be the combination of the two that proves so nasty.

                                2. re: maria lorraine

                                  May I ask why you say that? MSG is as natural as salt...or as unnatural as salt. And salt has it's very well known health ill -effects.

                                  1. re: Quine

                                    I omitted the word, should, in my statement above, sorry ! Sodium 'should' get the bad rap.....

                                    Over the years various doctors have advised that those in the family with HBP use little salt or eliminate it entirely . We all learned to enhance the flavor of food with herbs and spices. It's only recently that I have begun to use a pinch of salt here and there.

                                  2. re: maria lorraine

                                    I do not encourage the use of Accent (MSG). As a matter of fact I used it a few times way back in the 70's and then learned how to cook things in a better way, so that I didn't need to use it. I have no idea where my daughter got the idea that you have to use this stuff, but I am always arguing with her, and now I will lay off.

                                    Like Gio, we have HBP and know how to use other herbs and spices, besides salt, to perk foods up very well, thank you!

                                3. re: maria lorraine

                                  not to jump on you or anything, maria, but "umami" is the japanese word for "delicious." whether or not the word has been reappropriated by Ajinomoto to designate the "fifth flavour" glutamates isn't up for debate - it was - but I just thought it would be interesting to danhole to know the original meaning of the word. :]

                                  1. re: hjt

                                    I have also seen this term (umami) translated as "savory" or "meaty" in English.

                                    1. re: hjt

                                      There are variants to the word umami, one of which refers to the 5th taste receptor. But it depends on how it is written. Most commonly, Japanese use the term umami (旨味) as a derivative of delicious or umai (旨い), but usually in conjunction with savory or meaty flavors. However, I've found that when referring to umami as the 5th taste, it's usually written in hiragana (うまみ).

                                      1. re: hjt

                                        All of this is very interesting. This board is a constant source of education!

                                  2. My husband has been obsessing all weekend about umami after reading this article. I have, for years, used ketchup as a secret weapon in dark soups and stews that needed a little extra something-something. I've always craved things that are salty-briny-acidic like olives, pickles, anchovies, and I have a daughter with the same addictions.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: susan1353

                                      I'm sure after reading this that my husband must be a umami "super taster".

                                    2. I think they missed Lard (good quality rendered lard)... it definitely adds umami to any vegetable based meal.

                                      Its interesting that MSG is developed from Corn Syrup... because Corn is often referred to as "Our Flesh" in Mesoamerican cosmology.... Dried, Slaked Corn definitely has Umami (too me).

                                      Finally... I really think there is a 6th Taste (I hope I am not the only that thinks so)... it is Spicy. Capscicum is certainly an instant flavor enhancer... and it the tingling & heat has a taste all its own...

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                        MSG is processed from different starch crops. In Asia, cassava is a main source.

                                        1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                          is dried slaked corn also called hominy?

                                          1. re: alkapal

                                            It can be.... hominy is made from a specific type of corn (Cacahuazintle) with huge kernels... and which doesn't make for good tortillas or fresh eating...

                                        2. Umami is a pretty well-know concept. Worcestershire and soy sauce are "secret" ingredients in many commerical kitchens.

                                          Tomatoes and miso are other ingredients to add to the list.

                                          This is a pretty interesting cookbook, if you are interested in trying recipes specifically developed for their umami factor: http://www.globalgourmet.com/food/spe...

                                          1. Thanks for the great article- I knew there was a reason why wine, parmigiano, soy and fish sauce make everything taste better (not used together, of course)... and ketchup in moderation is never as satisfying as big old puddle of it!

                                            1. It's interesting because when I think of umami tastes...I never think of any of those foods. I thought it was more like the flavors you taste in wonton soup from a Chinese restaurant or a savory beef stew or something.

                                              1. I find this totally outrageous, and have been doing this for decades without even knowing that "that" is what I was doing! Thanks so much MMR! With the exception of ketchup, I am probably "umami-ing" everything in site, and have been doing do for decades. I am probably most guilty, or innocent, of anchovies. Been squirting paste and "mashed".....as in fried/mashed/in a hot pan, anchovies in Southern dishes for years, and have peeps clamoring for the recipes. Little did they all know, it was just a squeeze of the tube or a mash of the spoon that made all the diff in the world. Yet, had I recommended "anchovy" to them, I'd have been booted out of the place. Thanks for sharing the article.

                                                9 Replies
                                                1. re: Deepster

                                                  mario batali often speaks of the (non-fishy) flavor depth created by anchovy.

                                                  1. re: alkapal

                                                    The Cantonese have spoken about this for quite a long time. Try the fish soups or the seafood soups.

                                                    1. re: alkapal

                                                      Are anchovies really non-fishy? My dad used to eat them out of a tin and they smelled awful to me. Imagine my surprise when I figured out that anchovies were one of the top ingredients in Worcestershire sauce, which I love!

                                                      1. re: danhole

                                                        From my experience cooking with anchovies, after they are "melted" in the pan with other aromatics, the fishy smell and taste are dissipated. When other ingredients are added to the pan all that remains of the anchovies is a wonderful depth of flavor to the entire dish.

                                                        I first used anchovies when I wanted to give a more intense flavor to ecsarole I was braising. My uncle, who had been cooking the greens for decades, thought it was the best escarole he ever tasted. I never told him my secret. He never guessed.

                                                        1. re: Gio

                                                          Good to know. Thanks for the answer. What dishes do they especially compliment? Besides the escarole!

                                                          1. re: danhole

                                                            I have used tinned anchovies as an ingredient for pasta aglia olio, pasta with clam sauce, and the putanesca sauce... they definitely up the flavor there; the Italian vegetable stew Giambotta; and with various vegetables, always with greens, but olive oil, minced garlic and crushed anchovies make a unique sauce for cauliflower & broccoli too.... lovely dipping sauce for both crusty bread and the ever popular: bagna cauda.

                                                            Quite honestly, depending on your preference, anchovies can be used as an ingredient with just about anything. Just don't think I'd use then with desserts....but that's just me. LOL

                                                            1. re: Gio

                                                              I will add they can also be used as a component in stuffing for peppers, and meats, braciola for example.....

                                                                1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                  Thank you MarieLorraine. I appreciate your comment!
                                                                  I've had exceptional teachers, and have been at it since forever.