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Oral Presentations: Umami

By Marisa Córcoles

I decided to speak about this topic because, some weeks ago, I heard on the news that there was a new flavour called Umami. I was interested in knowing what Umami was, so I looked for information on the Internet about it. Now, this is all I found about this new word.

WHAT IS UMAMI?

Umami is the fifth taste besides salty, sweet, bitter or sour.

It is a loanword from Japanese meaning “flavour” or “taste”. In English, however, “savory” has been proposed as an alternative translation.

Umami is a pleasant savoury taste and comes from glutamate, a type of amino acid, which is naturally found in many foods such as meat, fish, vegetables and dairy products. Most people don’t identify umami when they come across it, but it makes food taste delicious.

THE DISCOVERY OF UMAMI

Umami was discovered by a Japanese scientist, Dr. Kikunae Ikeda of Tokyo Imperial University, in 1908.

He was researching the taste of soup made from kombu, a kind of algae, which is popular in Japanese food, because he wanted to know the reason for its delicious taste. He discovered that glutamate (or glutamic acid) was the main active ingredient in kombu and he used the term ‘umami’ to describe its taste. He was sure that this taste was held in common by other foods with a savoury flavour, including those used in Western meals such as tomatoes and meat and, indeed, upon investigation, it was discovered that these foodstuffs also contained umami.

UMAMI CULTURE AROUND THE WORLD

Umami is actually used in various forms all over the world. In Asia, umami is mainly found in beans and grain, fermented seafood-based products mushrooms, kombu and dried seafood. In Western cuisine, there are also fermented or cured products derived from meat and dairy products, such as ham and cheese. The most well-known ingredient is the tomato.

Although the concept of umami has been around for a century, the fifth taste has been slow to catch on in other Western countries. For starters, there’s a strange foreign word and for many food experts and scientists, umami is a combination of the four basic tastes.

In my opinion, umami plays an important role making food taste delicious because sea food, meat and vegetables contain high quantities of umami elements. I think umami is the answer to how delicious a pizza, a steak, a spoonful of soup or a piece of cheese is.

If you want to know more about umami, here you are my presentation.

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Categories: Oral Presentations
  1. January 4, 2011 at 7:12 pm

    Marisa, is that Umami book yours? I actually have a copy and it’s fabulous! I’m working on a food-based conference and I’d love to address the topic of Umami. Will you get in touch with me? Thanks!

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