14 September 2011

Umami - The Fifth Taste

So we understand this is not a new phenomenon, as umami was discovered in 1908.

However I don't think we have done a post, specifically on Umami, on the blog. So here it is!
Umami basically describes a combination of saltiness, sweetness, sourness and bitterness, that also has a "feel" to it when inside your mouth.

It is present in MSG's and various foods.
Although readily used in cooking Umami, has yet to take hold of the cocktail world with such a strong grip, despite being present in various ingredients that can easily be taken out of the kitchen and behind the bar.

What would be interesting, from our point of view, though is if we could achieve the "feel" of Umami without the actual flavour, which often does not sit well with fruity and lighter notes.

Although research continues into foods and products that contain Umami, we are still in the experimental stages, when it comes to bars and umami cocktails. However below is probably some of the most interesting results from research which has already taken place. (From Sensory and Receptor Responses to Umami: An Overview of Pioneering Wor, Gary K Beauchamp, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2009)

“Umami taste has all four flavour components: sweetness, sourness, saltiness and bitterness. In addition, glutamate has the capacity of stimulating the feeling nerves of mouth and throat to produce the sensation known as ‘satisfaction."

So more than a feel, Umami can actually create a sensation. In theory this could mean we could harness that sensation and "Satisfy" people with only cocktails rather than submitting them to a dastardly full meal of non-liquid goodness. Potentially not the healthiest option however an interesting avenue to explore whilst wandering down the liquid path.

The current research shows that Sake and Shochu are the only spirits to contain Umami. Many of the the other products are foods such as meat and cheese, however there are several ingredients such as shiso, green tea, miso and soy that also contain Umami which could certainly be incorporated into a cocktail. Miso bloody mary's, shiso mojitos, are maybe the most obvious

Umami originates, or was most often used, in Japan where it is present in countless foods and every day ingredients. Dashi stock, which is made from kelp (kombu), and used in making white miso soup is probably one of the most famous Japanese imports to the western food market today. Dr Kikunae recognised early on that the active ingredient in kelp was the key to unlock it "deliciousness". He succeeded in 1908, and extracted Glutamate from the kelp. He was the first to coin the term Umami to describe this new taste sensation.

So, still in it's infancy there are a few Umami inspired drinks around. Ranging from Umami mixed with lager to one bar that has created an MSG powder that they can grind up into drink to get the same effect. It seems though that we are still in need of modifying the techniques and really making Umami as much of a fixture in bars as it is in kitchens.

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