Have you heard of Umami (pronounced oo-mom’-ee)? It’s the savory taste that’s described as the fifth taste sensation, along with sweet, sour, bitter and salty. In Japanese, Umami translates to “pleasant, savory taste.” But truth be told, it’s a difficult word to translate. Kalin Cellars says that “Linguists have suggested that Umami has English equivalents, such as savory, essence, pungent, deliciousness, and meaty. Umami is associated with an experience of perfect quality in a taste. It is also said to involve all the senses, not just that of taste. In the Asian context there is both a spiritual and mystical quality to Umami.” Today, we’ll dive into this wonderful fifth taste sensation.
The Origins of the Word Umami
The word Umami dates back to 1908. This is when Kikunae Ikeda, the creator of monosodium glutamate (MSG), identified glutamates as a fifth taste source and called it Umami. Ikeda argued that, even though it was salty, Umami was distinct from the salt we taste on our tongues.
According to Vox.com, Ikeda identified that glutamic acid was causing this sensory experience. Glutamic acid itself is sour with some Umami taste to it, but if you neutralize it with sodium salt, it becomes MSG.
Where do you find Umami?
According to Wikipedia and Healthline, foods that have a strong umami flavor include seaweed, soy-based foods, broths, gravies, soups, shellfish, fish, tomatoes, mushrooms, meat, yeast extract, kimchi, Beyond Burgers, green tea and aged cheese.
Wines are also often described as having Umami essences. In the wine world, this description is used typically for red wines with earthy, meaty, savory qualities.
The Swami of Umami Has a Lot to Say About the Fifth Taste Sensation
Tim Hanni is a Master of Wine whom I’ve had the privilege to meet several times. He is an amazing man – very funny, very nice and a wine god. He also proudly holds the nickname “Swami of Umami.”
According to Tim, coupling wine with an Umami-rich food such as asparagus can result in a bitter, unhappy tasting experience. The food tastes great. The wine tastes awful. The good news is that Tim has a simple solution for this problem. He tells us to add lemon and salt to the asparagus. Really? Really. Adding lemon and salt gets rid of the bitter, unhappy tasting experience. The wine gets smoother and softer.
I’d love to hear your experiences with Umami, the Fifth Taste Sensation. How have you used it to turn a likable wine and food pairing into a lovable wine and food pairing?
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