The first reference to umami can be found in the Old Testament in the book of Genesis, chapter 27. It is when the patriarch asked for “savory meat” that he liked very much and he asked his son Esau to kill for it, but Esau’s brother Jacob and his mother and Isaac’s wife Rebekah decided to trick Isaac, who was dim on both eyes, and prepare him another meat killed by Jacob. And it was Jacob who received blessing that Esau was supposed to receive.
Now, millennia after this event, Isaac’s obsession with umami is still present. So, umami is said to be one of the five main tastes that can be sensed by specialized receptor cells that are present on the tongue of the human-being. Umami is the Japanese word that means “tasty” in general, but can be also alternatively translated as “savory”, “meaty” and “brothy”.
Umami, as a fifth taste, was first identifies by Kikunae Ikeda in 1908 who was researching the flavor of the seaweed broth in the Tokyo Imperial University. Ikeda isolated monosodium glutamate (MSG) and with the assistance of Ajinomoto company stated the distribution of MSG products. Glutamate itself has a very long and interesting history in food preparation as it can be found in soy and fish sauces, anchovies and parmesan cheese. It can be also found in MSG.
Extensive scientific research and investigations were carried out to this regard and it was proved that human tongue receptor cells were very much sensitive to food with glutamate, such as protein rich meat, cheese and seafood. The action of taste receptors of umami reveal why products to which naturally glutamate rich ingredients are added usually taste hearty and savory.
Cooks that are skilled in umami usage can significantly diminish salt and fat content in foods with sacrificing their primary flavor. It is very helpful to study and research how to increase umami taste in the cooking we do everyday, as it appears to be beneficial to wellbeing and health of every family, as it allows more satisfying and flavorful important nutrients delivery in every meal. If one just add some ingredients that are rich in glutamate, such as soy sauce, garlic or olive oil, cheese, to fish, vegetables, chicken or meat, the savoriness of those meals will be intensified. It is also possible to use any kinds of seafood, mushrooms and meat to increase umami taste. By the way, if the cook is willing to infuse the umami taste in his or her meals, it can be possible though curing and slow cooking, as these processes release free glutamate and therefore the food will have more intense umami taste.
In the conclusion I would like to recollect the old Hasidic teaching that warns that we will be punished in the next life for every taste we have neglected in this life. And therefore let’s just enjoy all pallets of tastes at the earthly table. Isaac confessed in his passion, and we should as well.
Brownlee, C. “Sweet Finding: Researchers Propose Candidate Sour Sensor.” Science News 26 Aug. 2006: 132+. Marty, Martin E. “Taste and See.” The Christian Century 29 Jan. 2008: 47.