There are four historically accepted tastes – sour, sweet, salty and bitter. Within the last few decades, a new flavor has found its way onto that list and into mainstream attention. Despite the recent recognition, this flavor has been around since the beginning of time.
Umami, a Japanese word meaning “pleasant, savory taste”, is found in different ingredients across the world. For example, in Australia it’s in vegemite, in Korea it’s in kimchi and in the US it’s in ketchup. According to Umami Information Center, you can taste the savory, “meaty” sensation in foods rich in glutamate, like beef and mushrooms. As the understanding of Umami and the variety of foods that contain the “savory, meaty” taste becomes more globally known, many in the food industry are using it to their advantage.
The exploration of Umami is driving chefs of all kinds to amp up their dishes. For example, Lufthansa’s culinary arm, LSG, was challenged with a daunting task – making airline food taste better. When finding that 30% of taste is lost at high altitudes, making meals more palatable takes more than simply adding salt. The chefs’ answer was Umami, the fifth taste. Incorporating savory ingredients, the chefs developed exciting plates like beef tenderloin with ginger enoki mushrooms and shiso leaves.
Other chefs, like Umami Burger and ChocoChicken’s Adam Fleischman, lean on the trendiness of Umami to market their creations. Just this year, Umami rose to #83 from #92 on the What’s Hot Culinary Forecast and it’s positioned to continue rising.
So how do you go about bringing this flavor into your restaurant? Chances are, you already have the ingredients to create Umami-rich dishes sitting in stock right now. Some foods with natural Umami include beef, pork, chicken, tomatoes, mushrooms, seaweed, potatoes, carrots, parmesan cheese and green tea.
To bring more fifth-flavor taste to your menu, try out a beef brisket, garlic ginger shrimp toasts or even grilled garlic flank steak salad. Umami might just be the flavor your recipes need to take your menu to the next level.