Umami: Unlocking the Secrets of the Fifth Taste

Author(s): Ole G. Mouritsen


In the West, we have identified only four basic tastes--sour, sweet, salty, and bitter--that, through skillful combination and technique, create delicious foods. Yet in many parts of East Asia over the past century, an additional flavor has entered the culinary lexicon: umami, a fifth taste impression that is savory, complex, and wholly distinct. Combining culinary history with recent research into the chemistry, preparation, nutrition, and culture of food, Mouritsen and Styrb k encapsulate what we know to date about the concept of umami, from ancient times to today. Umami can be found in soup stocks, meat dishes, air-dried ham, shellfish, aged cheeses, mushrooms, and ripe tomatoes, and it can enhance other taste substances to produce a transformative gustatory experience. Researchers have also discovered which substances in foodstuffs bring out umami, a breakthrough that allows any casual cook to prepare delicious and more nutritious meals with less fat, salt, and sugar. The implications of harnessing umami are both sensuous and social, enabling us to become more intimate with the subtleties of human taste while making better food choices for ourselves and our families. This volume, the product of an ongoing collaboration between a chef and a scientist, won the Danish national Mad+Medier-Prisen (Food and Media Award) in the category of academic food communication.


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The book is written in a very engaging manner, easily moving between vignettes of the latest science and mouth-watering menus and photographs. -- Gordon Shepherd, Yale University, author of Neurogastronomy Mouritsen and Styrb k demystify and explain in layman's terms the science of umami, including many Japanese elements that have not been explained in English before in this all-encompassing book. Along with Mouritsen's other publications Sushi and Seaweeds, Umami will be referred to time and time again. -- Yukari Sakamoto, author of Food Sake Tokyo A remarkably comprehensive account of umami taste and one in which the science is not only accurate but accessible and interesting. -- John Prescott, author of Taste Matters: Why We Like the Foods We Do In his earlier books Sushi and Seaweeds, Ole Mouritsen wove together biological, chemical, and gastronomical perspectives into rich portraits of these intriguing foods. In Umami, writing with the chef Klavs Styrb k, he does the same for this much celebrated yet enigmatic 'new' taste. Umami is a wide-ranging and welcome progress report on our understanding of taste and deliciousness. -- Harold McGee, author of On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen This book will be your go-to umami resource. The content is cleverly layered with molecular-level explanations of how we taste alongside rich cultural perspective and beautiful recipes. With its stunning graphics, this book is eye candy. -- Amy Rowat, founder of Science & Food Biophysicist Ole Mouritsen... seamlessly meshes science and gastronomy... Nature This book, representing the fruits of a longstanding collaboration between the scientist Ole G. Mouritsen and the Danish chef Klavs Styrbaek, is richly illustrated and packed with umami-rich recipes to try at home. It should be required reading for those catering for the airlines, since umami is one of the only tatste that holds up well in the air. Times Literary Supplement An engaging read... Umami is at once a scientific treatise, cultural history, unique collection of recipes, and handsome coffee-table--or for that matter, kitchen-table--book. -- Sandra J. Ackerman American Scientist

Ole G. Mouritsen is a distinguished scientist and professor of biophysics at the University of Southern Denmark. His books include Sushi: Food for the Eye, the Body, and the Soul and Seaweeds: Edible, Available, and Sustainable. Klavs Styrb k is a chef who, for more than twenty years, has owned and run the highly regarded Restaurant Kv gtorvet (The Cattle Market) in Odense, Denmark, and is a passionate advocate for the renewal of classical Danish cuisine. Mariela Johansen has Danish roots, lives in Canada, and holds an MA in humanities. Jonas Drotner Mouritsen is a graphic designer and owns the design company Chromascope ( His movie projects have won several international awards.

AcknowledgmentsPrologue: How it all beganWhat exactly is taste, and why is it important?The basic tastes: From seven to four to five and possibly many moreWhy do we need to be able to taste our food?There is more to it: Sensory science, taste, smell, aroma, flavor, mouthfeel, texture, and chemesthesisIs there a taste map of the tongue?Why are some foods more palatable than others?A few words about proteins, amino acids, nucleotides, nucleic acids, and enzymesGlutamic acid, glutamate, and the glutamate ionGlutamic acid and glutamate in our foodHow does glutamate taste, and how little is required for us to taste it?The first four: Sour, sweet, salty, and bitterThe physiology and biochemistry of tasteThe interplay between sweet and bitterTaste receptors: This is how they workWhen words fail us: Descriptions of tastesThe fifth taste: What is umami?Science, soup, and the search for the fifth tasteGlutamic acid and glutamateWhat is the meaning of the word umami?From laboratory to mass productionHow MSG is madeA little letter with a huge impact: The 'Chinese restaurant syndrome'The Japanese discover other umami substancesIt all starts with mother's milkUmami as a global presenceUmami has won acceptance as a distinct tasteAnd umami is still controversial...1 + 1 = 8: Gustatory synergyAmazing interplay: Basal and synergistic umamiDetecting umami synergy on the tongue and in the brainJapanese dashi: The textbook example of umami synergyThe art of making Japanese dashiNordic dashi Dashi closer to home--a Japanese soup with a Scandinavian twistSeaweeds enhance the umami in fishHow to make smoked shrimp headsMany substances interact synergistically with umamiA breakthrough discovery of yet another synergistic substanceThe interplay between glutamate and the four classic tastesA simple taste test: Umami vs. saltUmami-rich 'foie gras from the sea'Food pairing and umamiCreating tastes syntheticallyUmami: Either as little or as much as you likeUmami from the oceans: Seaweeds, fish, and shellfishSeaweeds and konbu: The mother lode of umamiA world of konbu in JapanFresh fish and shellfishCooked fish and shellfish dishes and soupsUmami and the art of killing a fishA traditional clambake: New England method, Danish ingredientsEveryday umami in ancient Greece and RomeFish sauces and fish pastesModern garumShellfish pasteOyster sauceSushi and fermented fishKatsuobushiCatching katsuo to optimize umamiNiboshiThe hardest foodstuff in the worldKusayaNordic variations: Horrible smells and heavenly tastesFish roeSeven friends, The Compleat Angler, and a pikeUmami from the land: Fungi and plantsUmami from the plant kingdomDried fungiFermented soybeansSoy sauceProduction of shoyuMisoProduction of misoThe Asian answer to cheese: Fermented soybean cakesNattoBlack garlicShojin ryori: An old tradition with a modern presenceThe enlightened kitchenTomatoesGreen teaUmami from land animals: Meat, eggs, and dairy productsThe animal kingdom delivers umami in spadesHomo sapiens is a cookPreserving meats in the traditional waysAir-dried hamsSalted beef: Pastrami and corned beefBacon and sausagesDairy productsBlue cheesesAged, dried, and hard cheesesEggs and mayonnaiseHarry's cr me from Harry's BarUmami: The secret behind the humble soup stockSoup is umamiOsmazome and The Physiology of TasteAmino acids in soup stocksA real find: A dashi barThe taste of a beef stockReady-made umamiKnorr and Maggi: European umami pioneersMaking the most of umamiMSG as a food additiveOther commercial sources of umamiHydrolyzed proteinUmami in a jarYeast extractNutritional yeastMore sources of umami for vegansKetchupBagna c udaWorcestershire sauceUmami in a tubeTwelve easy ways to add umamiQuintessentially Danish: Brown gravy, medisterp lse, and beef pattiesSlow cooking: The secret of more umamiRatatouille and brandadeThis is why fast food tastes so goodGreen salads and raw vegetablesUmami in dishes made with small fowlCooked potatoes: Nothing could be simplerRice and sakeBeerUmami in sweetsMirin is a sweet rice wine with umamiUmami and wellnessUmami and MSG: Food without 'chemicals'Umami satisfies the appetiteWhy does umami make us feel full? The 'brain' in the stomachUmami for a sick and aging populationUmami for lifeEpilogue: Umami has come to stayTechnical and scientific detailsUmami and the first glutamate receptorYet another receptor for umamiUmami synergyThe taste of amino acidsTaste thresholds for umamiContent of glutamate and 5'-ribonucleotides in different foodsBibliographyIllustration credits GlossaryIndexThe people behind the book RecipesPotato water dashi with smoked shrimp headsMonkfish liver au gratin with crabmeat and vegetablesPearled spelt, beets, and lobsterCrab soupClambake in a potPatina de pisciculisGarumQuick-and-easy garumSmoked quick-and-easy garumSeriously old-fashioned sourdough rye breadAnchovies, grilled onions, sourdough bread, pata negra ham, and mushroomsDeep-fried eggplants with miso (nasu dengaku)White asparagus in miso with oysters, cucumber oil, and small fishGrilled shojin kabayaki: 'fried eel' made from lotus rootBaked monkfish liver with raspberries and peanutsSlow-roasted sauce with tomatoes, root vegetables, and herbsFried mullet with baked grape tomatoes, marinated sago pearls, and black garlicMushrooms, foie gras, and mushroom essenceParmesan biscuits with bacon and yeast flakesHarry's cr meChicken bouillonGreen pea soup with scallops and seaweedDressing with nutritional yeastEggplant gratin e with garlic, anchovies, and nutritional yeastOysters au gratin with a crust of nutritional yeast and smoked shrimp head powderBagna c udaOld-fashioned Danish medisterp lseBeef patties, Danish styleChicken MarengoCassouletBeef estofadoSicilian ratatouilleBrandade with air-dried ham and green peasThree-day pizza with umami--not really a 'fast food'Quail p t RisottoOxtails braised in wheat beerUmami sorbet with maccha and tomatoWhite chocolate cream, black sesame seeds, Roquefort, and brioche with nutritional yeast

General Fields

  • : 9780231168915
  • : Columbia University Press
  • : Columbia University Press
  • : November 2015
  • : 260mm X 190mm
  • : September 2015
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Ole G. Mouritsen
  • : Paperback
  • : 280
  • : 84 colour illustrations