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In Pursuit of Umami

I was told umami means delicious or yummy in Japanese. This word has always fascinated me, so ephemeral & elusive, not just a yummy or delicious sensation, by any means.

How have you captured umami lately?

Was it a fresh herb that exploded with flavor in a simple sauce?

Was it the experience of watching someone as they ate your meal with serious pleasure on their face?

Was it a new recipe that called for ingredients you had never cooked with & found that you wanted to eat that food for the rest of your life?

Was it reading a cookbook & mentally tasting the recipes & experiencing the rituals of bringing that recipe to life in your kitchen?

Won't you join in & tell us exactly what umami means to you?

Can't help saying this - have you had your umami today??

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  1. I understand umami to be one of the tastes, like sour or sweet or bitter.

    My recent umami has been in the form of olives. I want them in everything all the time.

    1. Umami is savory, like sautéed mushrooms over a perfectly grilled steak, or, dare I say it? anything with MSG. I also think of miso soup and omelets with cheese, for some reason, or those yummy little fish cakes they serve in Korean restaurants.

      1. Umami is savory.

        Like great aged cheese.

        1. Umami is the type of savoriness that fills your mouth and coats your tongue. It's anchovies dissolved in tomato sauce. It's butter with a touch of marmite. It's the crackle of a crumbly old parmesan and the satisfactory tang of ketchup on a hot dog. If you've ever tasted a dish and thought "Hmm, it tastes good but it's missing something," that empty space is waiting to be filled with umami.

          1 Reply
          1. re: JungMann

            MARMITE!

            When you look up "umami" in the dictionary you find a picture of a little jar of marmite!

          2. Umami to me is a salty meatiness. It's the best way I can describe it. Or maybe a salty roundness?
            The most umami things in my diet are Maggi seasoning sauce and fish sauce. I also get it a lot from parmesan cheese, and I do use msg in some of my cooking because it doesn't cause me any problems. It really adds a "something".

            1. I use lots of things for umami strategically and sparingly in my daily cooking.

              Fish sauce, Maggi liquid (American, Spanish Jugo and German) and other msg in the form of Osem, Goya and Aromat powders, Braggs liquid amino's, porcini powder, miso and nutritional yeast flakes.

              1. The best description of Umami is the flavor that hits you in the back of the jaw - like when you mouth waters.

                Soy sauce, anchovies, Wooster sauce etc are all great sources.

                6 Replies
                  1. re: MGZ

                    I'm assuming sparky means Worchestershire sauce. Which pronunciation-wise would really be "wooster-sure" sauce, but eh. :o)

                    1. re: TorontoJo

                      It's really Wuster-shur is it not?

                      1. re: C. Hamster

                        Hmm...I would pronounce what I wrote and what you wrote the exact same way. So yes, "wuster-shur". :o)

                      2. re: TorontoJo

                        It's either Worcestershire sauce or Elmer Fudd pronouncing Sriracha.

                        1. re: Soul Vole

                          Yeah... wooster sauce is Worcestershire sorry about that - although I hope it provided some entertainment for yas...

                          I can spell to save my life... (master of the obvious)

                  2. Hey Chowhound people, you are so gracious in politely telling me umami is nothing more than a taste sensation.

                    I was applying that word in general terms by including a "feeling" as well as a taste. I was trying to say that some days a perfect meal just does not have that umami touch....something missing, exact same recipes/techniques used all the time, but the food just did not have that zing for whatever reason. Those are the times when we scratch our heads & say, "what went wrong"? Sometimes it is as simple as grouchy folks at the table or you were in a bad mood when making the food & those feelings came through the meal itself.

                    Sorry I took that word & used it out of context.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: cstout

                      Hmmmm, I can give you a feeling, I think. Umami to me is sitting on a beach in Thailand. When the heavy saltwater air is all around, and the sand is in your toes. Your plate of food comes, and you reach for that bottle fish sauce to add just a little more. Umami is contentment.

                      1. re: cstout

                        Umami is specifically the flavor of glutamates. The ephemeral feeling of "rightness" that you're trying to describe is difficult to pin down. The closest word I could come up with is the Danish concept of "hygge," though it is broader than just "rightness" in a meal.

                        1. re: JungMann

                          We are all the blind men describing the elephant......

                          1. re: JungMann

                            Oh, god! Hygge. I spent some time in Denmark and I was struggling to pin that one down. Now I can associate it with umami and get really confused :)

                        2. Mushrooms, tomato paste, Parmesan, aged Cheddar. I think of umami containing ingredients whenever I can to get my hefty daily dose but it seems I prefer to eat these foods anyway so it works out well. I actually just bought anchovy paste I'm trying to figure out what to do with.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: fldhkybnva

                            I like to use anchovy paste to make caesar dressing, or I like to mix some with onions and garlic and saute it in olive oil to become the base of a pasta sauce.

                            1. re: jmarya

                              How 'bout the base for some great pizza sauce? Thanks.

                          2. This was discussed less than a month ago on general topics, in this thread:

                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/893834

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: janniecooks

                              Thanks for pointing that out...read the post where chemicalkinetics said "tonic water tastes like a rainbow".

                              fldhkybnva said, "I think you are confusing it with Skittles".

                              Best laugh I have had in a long time & those statements explain umami perfectly!
                              .

                            2. Umami is love
                              A spoonful of earth
                              A forkful of moon
                              A plateful of sun

                              Umami is a taste
                              but it's like trying, . . .
                              i'ts like explaining, . . .
                              it's like you know it when. . . .

                              8 Replies
                              1. re: MGZ

                                Did you make that up all by yourself??
                                What a dreamer....what a poet you are....
                                How about throwing in a handful of stars?

                                1. re: cstout

                                  Well, I am of the mindset that certain concepts are best considered in different ways. I do take credit for creatin' all of the ideas and lines, but truth be told, it was inspired by, and intended to be a bit of a tribute to, our departed friend, foodfuser.

                                  1. re: cstout

                                    Upon reflection, it seems that listening to a Springsteen concert this am fueled the cadence of the second stanza. If you can, try and "hear" it like one of his mid set "raps" from the early 80s, so the guitar kicks in a second after the last syllable. I think fuser woulda kinda liked it that way.

                                    1. re: MGZ

                                      I must be very out of the loop. What happened to foodfuser and when? This is very sad, like when Sam left us.

                                      1. re: hilltowner

                                        Fuser passed a bit before last Christmas. He was a true 'hound and a lota fun to post with. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/883140

                                        1. re: MGZ

                                          Is there a general way to find out about CH's who have passed?
                                          There are two that I'm missing and I don't want to re-ignite either an argument that lead them to walk away from CH or the sadness when they've left our mortal coil.

                                          1. re: Kris in Beijing

                                            I do not know of any way. When I have learned of a departed 'hound, it has been through the posts of other 'hounds who knew him/her outside this Site.

                                            This has made me think about RGR. I have not seen a post from her on either the NJ or NYC Boards in some time now. She often drove me nuts and we butted heads on more than a few occasions, but I always respected just what a true and passionate 'hound she was.

                                            1. re: Kris in Beijing

                                              A few times I've seen posts (on other forums) by a spouse (or other relative) reporting that so-n-so regular poster has died.

                                  2. From the Wiki article:

                                    "Umami /uːˈmɑːmi/, a savory taste,[1][2][3] is one of the five basic tastes, together with sweet, sour, bitter and salty. A loanword from the Japanese (うま味?), umami can be translated "pleasant savory taste".[4] This particular writing was chosen by Professor Kikunae Ikeda from umai (うまい) "delicious" and mi (味) "taste". The kanji 旨味 are used for a more general meaning to describe a food as delicious."

                                    If I understand this correctly 'umai' is the Japanese word for 'delicious'. 'umami' is a word coined by a Japanese scientist to describe the particular taste he identified in kombu (a seaweed used to make dashi, soup stock).

                                    This tread is more about umai than umami.

                                      1. MSG is my go to when I want that umami flavor in a marinade or dish. It really punches it up when you use it judiciously.

                                        It is perfectly safe BTW. All the hoopla way back when scarred its reputation for absolutely no reason. Sad stuff.

                                        If you're not inclined to MSG though, a mixture of ground dried mushrooms and salt helps a lot. Anchovy paste is another one that I use in my tomato gravies.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. The Chinese equivalent is for umami is xian (which pre-dates umami was first "coined" in 1909, but then it was also described by many cultures including Japan with different for ages!) I don't know of any herb that grants it. Mushrooms, cheese, fish sauces.

                                          There may be a 6th "flavour" for fattiness. IIRC, it is not a traditional taste receptor, but there are proteins that are released into the body triggered by lipids that may affect "appetite" and "taste".