How to taste umami

Pro tips for boosting flavor

It’s one of today’s hottest culinary topics. Everyone is looking for it. Everyone wants to add it. So, what exactly is umami, and how can you put it to work on your menu?

In the West, we tend to think of four basic flavors: sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. Umami (oo-MAH-mee) is the fifth flavor – often described as meaty, savory or brothy. And although it was first identified and analyzed in Japan in the early 20th century, umami has been around for thousands of years as the “secret weapon” of cooks looking to add flavor intensity. It’s a flavor that is harder to pin down than the other four. Yet if you know what to look for, umami is instantly recognizable. It’s the tongue-coating richness of reduced meat stock, the intensity of parmesan cheese, the concentrated flavor of sautéed mushrooms or tomato sauce, and the complex, sweet-savory depth of traditionally brewed soy sauce.

What’s behind all of these umami-rich ingredients is a high concentration of certain amino acids – often the result of fermentation or reduction. But it’s what they do to other foods that is truly remarkable.

Umami ingredients boost flavor. Add them and foods taste richer, more intense, more fully rounded. And traditionally brewed Kikkoman® Soy Sauce is one of the most versatile, all-purpose umami ingredients of all.

Soy sauce & umami

Kikkoman® Soy Sauce is made from just four natural ingredients: water, soybeans, wheat and salt. A special yeast culture starts the fermentation process that transforms them into soy sauce over a period of several months, much like the process of making fine wine.

This is essentially how soy sauce has been made since its invention about 2,500 years ago, when it was created as a way to give vegetarian food a richer flavor. In fact, it’s one of the world’s oldest umami ingredients.

But what makes it different from other umami ingredients is its versatility. You’re not going to add a pinch of parmesan cheese or chopped mushrooms to just anything you cook. But traditionally brewed Kikkoman® Soy Sauce, which contains more than 300 distinct flavor and aroma components, is an easily incorporated liquid that’s convenient to use and store. And when used in the right quantity, it can actually act as a natural flavor enhancer for just about anything savory. In other words, soy sauce can be “instant umami”.

One plus one equals wow

This is especially useful when you’re preparing a dish that contains other umami-rich ingredients. Add soy sauce to beef, pork, chicken, seafood, mushrooms, or tomatoes, for example, and you get an umami synergy. As the flavors combine, they add up to more than the sum of their parts.

The key to creating this synergy with soy sauce is balance. In most cases – especially when working with non-Asian foods, you want the soy sauce flavor to remain in the background, so that you perceive its salty, sweet, meaty qualities without actually identifying a pronounced soy sauce taste. So go slowly at first, as you would with salt or pepper, seasoning to taste until you get the proportions right.

The magic of umami

Boosting the “delicous factor” in cooking

These days, everyone’s talking about umami, the so-called “fifth taste” (the other four being sweet, sour, salty, and bitter). Often described as meaty, savory, or brothy, umami is what you experience when you taste the tongue-coating richness of meat stock, the intensity of Parmesan cheese, the concentrated flavor of sautéed mushrooms, and the complex, sweet-savory depth of naturally brewed Kikkoman® Soy Sauce. The umami qualities that develop as part of the natural brewing process make Kikkoman one of the most versatile flavor enhancers you can buy. Its complex flavor and delicate aroma help bring out the flavors of other ingredients. Want to add savory depth to a French onion soup or meaty flavor to a veggie burger? Whatever you’re cooking, reach for Kikkoman® Soy Sauce as your go-to “umami in a bottle.”