Umami Techniques

Umami Techniques

Umami synergy

Synergistic effects which have been made use of for a long time.

The main umami substances are glutamate, inosinate and guanylate, and it has been scientifically proven that umami is sensed far more strongly when these are present not individually, but when glutamate is combined with inosinate or guanylate. This is referred to as umami synergy.

Yet people have been capitalizing on umami synergy for centuries, long before this effect was scientifically proven. All over the world, in dishes from soups combining glutamate-rich vegetables and inosinate-rich meat and fish, to the tang of Chinese cuisine extracted from chicken or pork bones and green onions, to Japanese dashi made from kombu (high in glutamate) and katsuobushi (high in inosinate), people have acquired an empirical understanding of umami synergy and applied that knowledge to cooking.

The strength of the umami synergy between glutamate and inosinate varies according to the ratios of each. When solutions containing slightly varying proportions of glutamate and inosinate were used to perform a sensory evaluation, umami was found to be most powerful with a glutamate to inosinate ratio of exactly 1:1. This proportion was deemed 7 to 8 times the intensity of tasting either glutamate or inosinate in isolation.

An analysis of the ichiban (primary) dashi used at one venerable Japanese restaurant revealed the glutamate/inosinate ratio to be exactly 1:1, suggesting that top restaurants know from experience the optimal proportions for greatest umami.

Synergistic effect in various cooking

Synergistic effect in various cooking

Umami intensity
by Glutamate/Inosinate ratio

Umami intensityby Glutamate/Inosinate ratio

*Proportions of glutamate and inosinate were adjusted to maintain a fixed total concentration (0.05g/100ml) of umami substance.

Comparing soups the world over

The dashi of Japan, bouillon from France, Chinese tang—ingredients and uses may differ, but all are indispensable to their respective cuisines. Analysis of their content reveals all to be rich in the umami substances glutamate and inosinate, and all are striking in their intense taste. Both east and west make clever use of umami.

Japanese dashi is simple, composed mainly of glutamate, inosinate, and the weaker umami substance aspartate. In contrast, bouillon and tang have high levels of amino acids that are not umami substances, and consequently have more complex tastes.

Kombu dashi

Ichiban dashi*

Chicken bouillon

Shang tang

* Ichiban dashi is high in a weak sour amino acid by the name of histidine, found in katsuobushi.
Analysis courtesy of : AJINOMOTO Co., Inc.

The growing use of umami

The functions of umami are attracting growing interest not only in the world of cooking, but from medical and nutrition professionals as well.

Umami allows for less salt

Umami also helps to reduce salt content in cooking. Numerous studies and statistics link excessive salt intake to many different lifestyle diseases. Yet food does require a certain amount of salt to taste good. Drastically reducing salt content renders food tasteless, and while we know that cutting down on salt is good for our bodies, a low-salt diet is difficult to maintain. It has been demonstrated that making use of umami allows salt content to be reduced without compromising palatability. In an experiment comparing egg-drop soup prepared according to a standard recipe with a soup made with extra umami, it was found that salt could be reduced in the umamiboosted soup by around 30 percent with no loss of palatability. In a similar manner, some Japanese restaurants are experimenting with serving healthy kaiseki food able to be savored equally by those on a salt-reduced diet, by focusing on boosting umami in food preparation.

 Incorporating umami skillfully into our daily diet allows us to enjoy tasty meals, even with less salt.

Improving quality of life for the elderly

Umami is mouthwatering, literally. Recent advances in taste physiology confirm that the umami substance glutamate promotes salivation. Salivation is further encouraged by the addition of inosinate. Taste impairment among older people is deemed primarily due to a decline in salivation, and with some reports suggesting that such impaired taste sense can be ameliorated using umami to promote salivation, moves are underway to use umami as a means of improving quality of life for the elderly. In the UK, for example, chefs and scientists are working together to develop umami-rich meals for this purpose.

Umami foods for delicious,low-fat French cuisine

Umami foods for delicious,low-fat French cuisine

By reducing cream and butter content, boosting the boullion component and using umami-rich ingredients, this potage is made with only one-third the calories of a more conventional recipe. Enhancing umami allows more intense flavor with fewer calories.

Courtesy of : Koji Shimomura (Tokyo, Edition Koji Shimomura)

Healthy kaiseki cookingusing the umami of dashi

Healthy kaiseki cookingusing the umami of dashi

Kaiseki restaurants c can serve equally enjoyable low-calorie or salt-reduced diets, by using umami of dashi. One example is preparing simmered dishes with more umami-rich dashi. This can be achieved by increasing the quantities of dashi ingredients.

Courtesy of : Takashi Tamura (Tokyo, Tsukiji Tamura)

Healthy Japanese cuisine in the global spotlight

Recent years have seen a growing shift in the developed world toward fewer calories and animal fats, as people look to prevent lifestyle diseases and maintain good health. As part of this dietary trend, Japanese cuisine has enjoyed burgeoning popularity, thanks to its health properties. Rather than relying on animal fats, Japanese cooking uses the umami of dashi to highlight the intrinsic flavors of ingredients, and chefs from all over the world have started visiting Japan to study these cooking techniques. Learning how to make Japanese dashi, they master the use of umami as an alternative to animal fats before going on to develop their own approaches to umami-oriented cooking. For instance, a kaiseki-style bento box made by one traditional Japanese restaurant uses over 40 different ingredients, yet contains fewer than 500 calories. The secret is the Japanese cooking technique of using the umami of dashi to enhance flavors.

Bento box high in variety yet low in calories

Bento box high in variety yet low in calories

This kaiseki-style bento box uses over 40 ingredients, but contains fewer than 500 calories, by using the umami of dashi to highlight individual flavors.

Courtesy of : Yoshihiro Murata (Kyoto, Kikunoi)