Umami

Umami: Unlocking the Secrets of the Fifth Taste

Ole G. Mouritsen, Klavs Styrbæk

Columbia University Press

Umami is a fascinating book that explores the physiology and chemistry of taste. The authors take us on a tour of a rarely seen side of cooking – that is is the science behind why food tastes as it does and how we register that taste. In Western cuisine we have four tastes, sweet, sour, salty and bitter. In the East they add a fifth taste, umami, which some people refer to as savoury.

Umami works in concert with the other tastes to create a fuller sensation of food. They reveal early on that umami is created by glutamate. It is the MSG of decades ago. They talk about how MSG was made into an toxic food additive in the popular mind by misunderstanding and incomplete science. The book is much more that an attempt to reintroduce MSG as an additive. It is much more interesting.

The authors take us through several recipes that allow us to create the umami taste in dashi broth and in other ways. As you proceed through the book you find recipes at each step which show how with common ingredients we can use umami in our own cooking without any recourse to additives.

In many ways we’ve already been using umami without knowing, whether it is the additive of anchovies, or the dash of soy sauce in our dish. I enjoyed reading the book and learning more of the science behind food and taste. I also liked having the chance to play with umami in recipes that are almost familiar.

Umami is well worth reading by anyone who enjoys food and would like to understand a little more about the reasons and cause of that enjoyment.

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