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What is umami to you?

fldhkybnva Mar 11, 2013 06:42 PM

I am fascinated with umami. As a person who always needs to know "why" I first discoered it in my quest to figure out why I craved mushrooms. It didn't make sense to me that I would crave some random fungus, but then i learned that they are chock full of umami which probably also explains why that dash of Parmesan seems to do something even though I can't explain it or I can inhale a pint of grape tomatoes without figuring out why. While I understand the chemistry, unlike the other "Big 4" - sweet, sour, salty and bitter - it is unique in that I can't seem to describe it in words. What is umami to you? How would you describe it?

  1. b
    blackpippi Mar 28, 2013 02:43 PM

    It's what a baby asks of the first woman it sees.

    1 Reply
    1. re: blackpippi
      ItalianNana Mar 28, 2013 02:47 PM


      LOL good one! And if that babe is fortunate enough to get its first food from "mami's" breast, it's high in...you guessed it UMAMI!

    2. r
      racer x Mar 25, 2013 08:57 PM

      To me, it is a "fullness" or "roundness" taste.
      Dishes that are kind of flat, kind of blah, really wake up when high-umami ingredients are added.
      It's the I-definitely-want-a-second-helping flavor component.

      9 Replies
      1. re: racer x
        fldhkybnva Mar 26, 2013 04:48 AM

        A few days ago I had roast chicken and sauteed mushrooms and I must say I felt like I hit the umami jackpot. The simple mushroom with it's load of glutamate really rounded out the dish to make it a flavor :) The more I learn, it seems many of my dishes are taking on a deliciousness of Unami with careful but simple pairings. I have to say it's my favorite taste...someone else can have the cake!

        1. re: fldhkybnva
          ItalianNana Mar 28, 2013 12:23 PM


          This is fascinating to me. I must admit that the term "umami" is one I've heard only in the last year or so. While people say that "sweet, sour, salty, bitter" also cannot be described, it's not the same. Everyone knows many, many agreed upon foods or dishes that are salty or sweet, etc. if you say something is "bitter" people know exactly what you are talking about. (If they didn't you could always have them bite into an olive on a tree!) But, some foods which are especially delicious to me leave me unable to say why. A depth of taste in a soup comes to mind. I might or might not be able to improve a weak beef stock with salt, sugar, lemon or
          some rind, but it's almost always improved with a little tomato paste. Tomatoes, cheese and pork are known to have umami, also mushrooms, shellfish, carrots and green tea! I just learned that chicken bones do too. They are all high in glutamate I think. I'd love to know what foods most people consider to have umami. Great thread.

          1. re: ItalianNana
            fldhkybnva Mar 28, 2013 12:30 PM

            Here's a pretty interesting site I found about umami


            1. re: fldhkybnva
              ItalianNana Mar 28, 2013 01:25 PM

              That was a great link! I now know why I love tomatoes, potatoes, ham, sardines, Parmasean, soy sauce and shellfish. Man Parmasean is loaded!! I love sautéed mushrooms, but haven't eaten Shitakes much and those are the ones listed as really high in umami.
              It also talks about how pairings are known to create big "umaminess."
              I love knowing why, and for that reason enjoy the geekiness of Cooks Illustrated. :-D

              1. re: ItalianNana
                fldhkybnva Mar 28, 2013 01:50 PM

                Yea, I couldn't figure out why I loved mushrooms until I read more about umami. Perhaps thats not the explanation but I can eat a lb of them and never look back they are just so good.

                1. re: fldhkybnva
                  ItalianNana Mar 28, 2013 02:58 PM

                  Now I'm wondering about sauerkraut and olives!

                2. re: ItalianNana
                  fldhkybnva Mar 28, 2013 01:50 PM

                  Yes, I have been pondering a subscription do you enjoy it or is this more the online information?

                  1. re: fldhkybnva
                    ItalianNana Mar 28, 2013 02:56 PM

                    Very much. I have my magazine subscription because I like to read cover to cover and have as reference. I also have the o line subscription because I like to cook for family when I'm visiting and I can log in anywhere. And you can access more information with the online subscription.

              2. re: ItalianNana
                fldhkybnva Mar 28, 2013 12:30 PM

                For myself personally, I associate it most definitely and often with mushrooms, tomatoes and parmesan.

          2. s
            seamunky Mar 12, 2013 06:31 PM

            In Vietnamese, the word for umami is the same for sweet. MSG translates to "sweet powder". The context, however, provides the distinction. One might remark how "sweet" an oyster or a good broth is.

            So to me, umami is the subtle "sweetness brought by proteins" that, like some have mentioned, rounds out the flavors and fills out the whole flavor profile. This may counter the vegetarian seaweed source in which it was originally identified. However, in Vietnam, seaweed is more often used in a sweet dessert rather than in savory applications and, as far as I'm familiar, never used in a broth.

            1 Reply
            1. re: seamunky
              Wawsanham Mar 27, 2013 04:43 PM

              In English, we seem to drive "umami" toward salty. Isn't "umami" just a fancy word for savory? From the description of the umami jackpot (chicken with mushrooms), to be the word that comes to mind is really savory. Besides, the Spanish word for savory is "salado"--again the connection with saltiness, as salado means salty, and the word savory is pretty much translated as such.

            2. melpy Mar 12, 2013 08:23 AM

              This is probably the Tate I crave most often.

              1 Reply
              1. re: melpy
                chefj Mar 12, 2013 03:48 PM

                You crave a British Art Museum?

              2. MGZ Mar 12, 2013 08:17 AM

                I have opined on the notion over the years, for example, here are some old ramblings of mine:

                Ultimately, however, I think of Umami as the bottom notes. Charles Mingus, Phil Lesh, or Berry Oakley - somethin' that just rounds it out, settles it down, and enhances everything else that is there to shine.

                1. ipsedixit Mar 12, 2013 08:10 AM

                  To me umami is ___, if not exactly like ___. It tastes just like ___. Yum.

                  1. p
                    Puffin3 Mar 12, 2013 08:03 AM

                    I just bought a bottle of it. " sprinkle that **** on everything." LOL

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Puffin3
                      fldhkybnva Mar 12, 2013 08:30 AM

                      Indeed, along with my favorite Franks' Hot Sauce which I do put on everything :)

                    2. Chemicalkinetics Mar 12, 2013 07:44 AM

                      Umami is taste with I associate with meats and seafoods.

                      <unlike the other "Big 4" - sweet, sour, salty and bitter - it is unique in that I can't seem to describe it in words>

                      I think umami is more subtle, but I don't think the other four are simply to describe in words.

                      1. w
                        wattacetti Mar 11, 2013 07:04 PM


                        Kokuni (the 6th taste) is deliciousness.

                        11 Replies
                        1. re: wattacetti
                          fldhkybnva Mar 12, 2013 06:21 AM

                          I agree with the savory feeling, I just might have to accept that I can never explain what it is about umami in words that keeps me coming back.

                          1. re: fldhkybnva
                            wattacetti Mar 12, 2013 07:02 AM

                            Describe what savory means to you.

                            1. re: fldhkybnva
                              Chemicalkinetics Mar 12, 2013 07:41 AM

                              < I just might have to accept that I can never explain what it is about umami in words >

                              Neither can you explain "salty" in taste or "yellow" in color to another person.

                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                fldhkybnva Mar 12, 2013 08:30 AM

                                Well, yea that bothers me as well. I just thought I'd see if anyone had any interesting descriptions out of interest. For example, I often describe tonic water as "tastes like the rainbow" which works for me but I'm sure others have interesting descriptions as well.

                                1. re: fldhkybnva
                                  Chemicalkinetics Mar 12, 2013 08:35 AM

                                  <I often describe tonic water as "tastes like the rainbow" >

                                  No, I think you are confusing that with Skittles. :D

                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                    cstout Apr 6, 2013 05:49 AM

                                    Tthat was absolutely too funny....thanks for the laugh!!

                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                      fldhkybnva Apr 6, 2013 06:04 AM

                                      I actually hate skittles but they do taste like the rainbow too :)

                                      1. re: fldhkybnva
                                        cstout Apr 6, 2013 08:41 AM

                                        Pop your magic twanger Froggie & make us some umami

                                    2. re: fldhkybnva
                                      scubadoo97 Mar 22, 2013 01:08 PM

                                      When eating things with MSG it makes me salivate a little. Not drool!!

                                      1. re: scubadoo97
                                        INDIANRIVERFL Mar 26, 2013 08:37 AM

                                        I spent over 10 years trying to duplicate the fried rice that was so great at the stands and restaurants. I was following an old recipe that called for MSG. Problem solved!!!

                                        Umami for me is like the German term Gemutlichkeit. Cannot be translated, but you know it when it happens.

                                        1. re: INDIANRIVERFL
                                          Wawsanham Mar 27, 2013 04:45 PM

                                          OH, I'd say "gemütlich" is cozy. "Gemütlichkeit" = coziness. Of course, everyone may have some specific extra connotations attached to a word.

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