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The umami taste and the wagyu

Umami is a well known thing for some time now in gastronomy. It originally comes from a Japanese word, but is now used in Europe as well, it means something like "enjoyable flavor". However umami stands for much more than just a pleasant taste, basically we are talking about a fifth taste beside salty, sweet, bitter and sour.

Umami: the fifth taste

The taste of the umami as the fifth main taste – like it is usually is with misunderstood artists – got rejected among the scientists and experts of the western society. Most of them thought that the whole umami phenomenon, this undoubtedly pleasant and unique flavor can be defined, or even created as a combination of the main tastes – sweet, salty, sour and bitter. Umami only got globally accepted as a main taste in 1996, when scientists from the University of Miami could prove that there are specific taste buds spread across the human tongue for tasting umami.

Discovering umami

Discovering umami however is dated back way before, after the turn of the century in 1908 Kikunae Ikeda, a chemist professor was the first to extract the glutamic acid from kombu (a traditional Japanese seaweed) that is responsible for the umami taste. Since then monosodium glutamate became a widely used product in the food industry as a flavor enhancer. It runs under the number E621, and it is used in the gastronomy as an additive for many kinds of foods nowadays.

Natural glutamine sources

Even though glutamic acid can be already manufactured artificially the real gourmets prefer the rich flavors of the natural umami materials. Here is a non-exhaustive list of foods that have a strong umami flavor:

  • broth (especially beef and fish)
  • aged cheese
  • aged meat
  • seafood (clams, crabs)
  • spinach
  • tomatoes (especially when concentrated)
  • soy sauce, fish sauce
  • mushrooms (especially wild ones)
  • olives
  • kombu seaweed

Glutamate – the main cause for the umami taste – consists of three components, which are present in different proportion in various foods.

There is one which can be found in vegetables and mushrooms, like tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms, truffles, soy bean, sweet potatoes or carrots. A different component ratio is responsible for the umami taste in beef, pork and chicken, and an other one in mackerel, oyster, mussel, crab, squid and tuna. 

The wagyu beef and the umami taste

When it comes to rating the wagyu beef, one of the most important aspect is the umami content of the meat, so a low umami content means a lower rating. The Hungarian wagyu meat performed well in this field so far, in 2016 Japanese wagyu-experts visited our country and gave a perfect rating to the wagyu meat's tenderness and umami-content.