What Is Umami, The Lesser-Known Fifth Taste That Can Enhance Your Dishes?

by Mallika Khurana
What Is Umami, The Lesser-Known Fifth Taste That Can Enhance Your Dishes?

When we talk about different tastes-sweet, sour, bitter, and salty are the only ones that come to mind. Umami is a comparatively new element in the palate, and its popularity has been on the rise. For a long time, it has been playing a significant role in culinary practices worldwide—widely used in cooking to enhance flavours, especially in dishes like broths, sauces, marinades, and savoury foods. But what is it exactly? Do Indian dishes deliver an umami flavour? What ingredients can help you with it? 

Understanding Umami And Its Discovery

understanding Umami
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Umami is a Japanese word that translates to “pleasant savoury taste” or “deliciousness.” It is often described as the fifth basic taste, known for improving the overall flavour of food. The discovery of umami can be attributed to the Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda in the early 20th century. Ikeda was intrigued by the unique taste of dashi, a traditional Japanese broth made from seaweed. 

He conducted experiments to isolate the compound responsible for its unique flavour and identified glutamic acid as the key component. “The rise in Umami’s popularity stems from its unique ability to transform a dish from good to exceptional. Umami, the ‘fifth taste,’ adds depth, complexity, and a savoury sensation that the senses like no other,” explains renowned Chef Raji Gupta, Founder of Beyond Dining Co. 

Ingredients That Lend Your Dishes The Fifth Taste

Umami ingredients
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You can even lend your dishes the fifth taste of umami with certain ingredients known for their umami-rich traits. These ingredients help to elevate their flavour and create a more yummy and delicious experience. ” Its presence in ingredients such as mushrooms, soy sauce, and aged cheeses creates a symphony of flavours, leaving a lasting impression on every bite,” she brings to notice. “The distinctive flavour profile can even be prepared with homemade broths and stocks that are brimming with rich flavours.”

Various types of mushrooms, such as shiitake, porcini, and oyster mushrooms, are known for their high umami content. “Mindfully combine ingredients like kombu seaweed, dried mushrooms, onions, garlic, and meat or vegetable scraps to craft the perfect umami-packed broths that make a lip-smacking foundation for soups, stews, risottos, or sauces, imparting a profound savoury essence to your culinary creations”,  she suggests. 

Also Read: Sawan Ka Mahina: Its Significance For Lord Shiva Devotees And 8 Tips For Easy Fasting

Indian Delicacies Rich In Umami

Indian dishes
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Indian cuisine offers a range of dishes that are naturally rich in umami flavour as well. The popular North Indian dish, butter chicken features tender chicken cooked in a creamy tomato-based sauce that is packed with umami flavours from ingredients like tomatoes, spices, and ghee. The slow cooking process and the layering of flavours in biryani result in a dish with a complex umami profile. Believe it or not, our favourite gol gappas are also one of those dishes that deliver that umami experience.

Bringing into highlight the cultural importance of Umami in food, she further adds, “Umami’s allure lies in its ability to balance and enhance the taste of other ingredients, elevating dishes to new heights of gastronomic pleasure. Its growing recognition signifies our evolving culinary appreciation and the quest for extraordinary dining experiences. Embracing umami means embracing a world of savoury delight and unlocking a universe of unforgettable flavours.”

So, are you ready to be delighted with the flavours of umami?

Cover Image Courtesy: Canva