Amino acids - a crucial element in flavor
The umami taste was initially found to appear with the presence of glutamate - a type of amino acid. After this discovery, research investigating the connection between amino acids - a structural element of protein - and the taste of food continued, and it was eventually discovered that each of the twenty kinds of amino acids possesses its own unique taste. The combination of these various tastes is an important element in determining the flavor of foods.
Enhancing good taste - the synergistic effect of umami
Apart from the amino acid glutamate, the umami taste is also given by the nucleotides inosinate, which can be found in meat and fish, and guanylate, which is found in mushrooms. The synergistic effect of these different types of umami has been scientifically proven - that is, that by combining these different kinds of umami, the umami taste is significantly magnified. Japanese people have been making use of ingredients containing different types of umami in their dashi stock, which forms the basis of many Japanese meals. Ichiban dashi, for example, contains kombu (kelp) which is rich in glutamate and katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) which contain a large quantity of inosinate. These culinary conventions are the result of understanding the synergistic effect of umami through practical experience.
Ways of combining umami
The synergistic effect of umami has been put to use in Japanese, Western, Chinese and all kinds of cuisines throughout history.