Umami Foods Bring More Deliciousness to Life

It’s about time for umami

Image from Flickr.

Image from Flickr.

Thanks to the popularity of “Iron Chef,” which blazed the trail for all kinds of competitive cooking shows, people are finally learning about umami foods. Then again, maybe they’re just learning it from the soy sauce commercials and payday loan companies.

Regardless of how or why, umami foods are finally getting the interest and recognition they deserve, making people’s palates more pleased. The word “umami” came from Japan, just like “Iron Chef.” Even though the idea of the fifth taste was added to the list with sweet, salty, bitter and sour in 1908, a lot of people are just hearing about umami for the first time.

Umami gets some serious screen time

As I suggested before, I believe it is the magical box we love to learn from combined with the rise in popularity of cooking shows that has caused this sudden interest in umami foods. For instance, a couple of weeks ago on “The Next Iron Chef,” the Food Network show used to select, um, the next Iron Chef, the chefs participated in an umami challenge in Tokyo.

Umami has also been thrown around on the ever popular “Top Chef” and, as I mentioned, soy sauce commercials. So, now that we’ve heard my theory about where this fascination with umami foods came from, what the heck are they?

Umami means yummy

The Tokyo Imperial University first identified umami as a separate taste, which is why we use the Japanese word for it. “The Next Iron Chef” judges say that “umami” means “deliciousness.” Other English words used to describe umami are: savory, brothy and meaty. A judge on “Chopped” called it “earthy.”

The umami taste is classified as its own taste because just like salty, sweet, sour and bitter, the tongue has specific taste buds that respond to it. Umami is present in foods such as meat, fish sauce, soy sauce, mushrooms, tomatoes, potatoes and Parmesan cheese. To get scientific about it:

The Umami taste is created by the amino acid Glutamate, and the ribonucleotides inosinate and guanylate, writes Thai chef and restaurateur John D Lee.

My thoughts on tasty tastes

I am a huge fan of savory foods, particularly pizza and potatoes, so I have a pretty solid  grasp of what umami is. I also love mushrooms and steak and soy sauce, so I understand why its synonyms are deliciousness and savory. However, all this talk of tastes and tastebuds always gets me thinking of my favorite taste of all: spicy.

So where is spicy on this list of tastes? Why isn’t it there? Lee wrote in his post about umami foods that “scientists now suspect that we may have receptors unique to spicy (capiscacim) and also to fat.” Scientists suspect, eh? Well, the only response I have to that is why don’t they know? I mean, come on! What in the world are scientists doing, if not identifying the spicy receptors? What could they possibly have to do that is more important? If scientists in Japan could identify umami foods more than 100 years ago, where’s the research on spiciness?