We typically use our four flavor senses – salty, sweet, bitter, and sour – on a daily basis, but did you know we also have a fifth sense of flavor? Umami, a Japanese word meaning savory, gives you that full-mouth, balanced taste in dishes when all the flavor elements are in sync. Read on for more information on umami and a few Asian-inspired recipes full of tastebud-tantalizing umami characteristics.
What is umami?
Umami is the fifth flavor sense, discovered years ago by Asian scientists and chefs. It is caused by a whole mouth feeling of deliciousness, which is naturally found in meats, cheeses, broths, stocks, and a variety of protein-rich foods. Asian foods like soy sauce and fish sauce are renowned for evoking the taste sensation of umami. Asian marinades, dressings, and dipping sauces are commonly served with noodle salads, dumplings, and vegetables, which results in a satisfying taste in your mouth that the salads, dumplings, and vegetables would not deliver alone.
Recipes featuring umami
Here are a few Asian dressings to incorporate into your meals to achieve that full-mouth satisfying flavor of umami.
Chinese Black Vinegar Dressing
Makes 20 servings Ingredients:
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced green onion
3/4 cup canola oil
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons warm honey Directions:
Shake all ingredients together in a mason jar until honey is dissolved. Cool before serving. Serving suggestions: Dumplings, fried wontons, egg rolls, chicken or beef kabobs
Thai Chili Sauce
Makes 6 servings Ingredients:
5 ounces fresh red Thai chiles, seeded
1 medium shallot, peeled
5 cloves garlic,
1/2-inch piece of ginger, peeled
1/4 to 1/2 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon fish sauce
2 teaspoons palm sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt Directions:
1. Blend chiles, shallots, garlic, and ginger in a food processor or blender to form a paste. 2. Add water and continue processing until smooth. Blend in remaining ingredients. Let stand at least 1 hour before serving to meld flavors. Serving suggestions: Pan-seared shrimp, grilled food, beef salad, noodle salads
Japanese Miso Dressing
Makes 1 cup Ingredients:
3/4 cup red miso
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons mirin (Japanese rice wine)
2 tablespoons hot water
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds Directions:
Whisk together miso and sugar. Add in remaining ingredients and whisk until well combined. Serving suggestions: Tossed with shredded lettuce or cabbage and carrots, green salads, steamed vegetables, noodle salads Love umami? Try this Asian Lobster Salad or sink your teeth into these Asian Veggie Wraps!
And for more tips on incorporating umami and a balance of flavors into your meals, read Healthy cooking tips for women, featuring tips from Chef Scott Uehlein, executive chef of Canyon Ranch Resort.