Umami (うま味)


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Umami. Do you know that word? It’s a Japanese word (うま味) meaning something like ‘pleasant savoury taste’. According to Wikipedia: “People taste umami through receptors for glutamate, commonly found in its salt form as the food additive monosodium glutamate (MSG). For that reason, scientists consider umami to be distinct from saltiness.” Although originally a Japanese word, ‘umami’ has now been ‘borrowed’ into the English language and is known as the ‘fifth taste’ (the other four being salty, sweet, bitter and sour).

The other day I was browsing the small Japanese section in my local Sainsbury’s, when I came across these:

Umami Paste & Umami Dust

(Yes, I bought them, I couldn’t help myself!)

These pastes and dust by Laura Santtini are covered with quotes and information about umami: “UMAMI = SAVO{U}RY ‘DELICIOUSNESS’ the scientifically proven fifth taste”; “The ultimate flavo{u}r bomb to enhance any savo{u}ry dish”.

Along with the annoying {u} all over the packaging (just make up your mind whether you’re using American or British spelling!) there are also lots of words and phrases such as “squeezeability”, “shakeable deliciousness”, and “making good cooks great and great cooks extraordinary”.

The pastes come in two varieties: ‘Far Eastern Recipe’ and ‘Mediterranean Recipe’. The Mediterranean packet says the following:

TASTE #5 UMAMI PASTE™ is a NEW versatile ingredient. This powerful flavo(u)r bomb! can be used raw or cooked to add DELICIOUSNESS wherever it is needed.
FLAVO(U)R BOMB! add umami depth to savo(ury dishes during cooking by squeezing into stir-fries, risottos, pizzas, soups, ragu, pasta sauces, chilli con-carne & stews.
CONDIMENT: spread on crostini, panini, bruschetta, canapés, croutons, burgers and sandwiches. Drop into dips, dressinga, mayonnaise. Add to marinades, meat loaf & burger mixes. Delicious with cheese, cold meats & eggs. SEASONING: rub into raw meat, steak, chops, ribs, pultry, roasts, fish, shellfish, tofy or vegetables before cooking. GARNISH: squeeze onto soups, risottos, pastas & burgers just before serving. QUICK PASTA SAUCE or SALSAS: add a generous squeeze to chopped fresh tomato, torn rocket, basil, grated lemon zest & a good glug of extra virgin olive oil. Add hot drained pasta, mix and serve. This is delicious topped with crumbled ricotta! SAUCES & GRAVIES: deglaze your pan with a splash of wine or light stock & a squeeze of TASTE #5 UMAMI PASTE™ for mouth-watering results.

The Far Eastern version has different serving suggestions:

FLAVO(U)R BOMB! add umami depth to any Far Eastern dish from curries and stir fries to broths, soups, rice and noodles. QUICK UMAMI NOODLES/RICE: stir fry hot drained noodles or rice in a little sesame oil with a squeeze of paste for super tasty results/ SUSHI/SASHIMI: use in sushi instead of wasabi or mix with wasabi paste or powder for an umami packed kick. Try as a garnish for sashimi. CONDIMENT: spread on canapés, burgers, sandwiches. Drop into dips, dressings, mayannaise & marinades. SEASONING: rub into raw meat, poultry, roasts, fish, seafood, tofu or vegetables before cooking. ideal for teppanyaki grills, ribs and teriyaki. SAUCES & GRAVIES: deglaze your pan with wine, light stock, sake or mirin and add a squeeze of TASTE #5 UMAMI PASTE™ for mouth-watering results.

The TASTE #5 UMAMI DUST™ claims to be a salt alternative:

TASTE #5 UMAMI DUST™ has no added salt or sugar. LOW in sodium and HIGH in super savo(u)ry ingredients, this unique flavo(u)r packed SALT ALTERNATIVE will transform your food at the table and in the pan.

TASTE #5 UMAMI DUST™ adds DELICIOUSNESS wherever it is needed. Use this unique savo(u)ry sprinkle at the table as an alternative to salt. Shake on fish, meat, poultry, salads, vegetables, soups, popcorn, potato chips, rice, eggs, pasta, pulses/legumes & grains. use to season flour or breadcrumbs.

Shake onto any food from steaks to stir-fries in the pan just before serving for extra deliciousness.

So, it seems they believe they have harnessed the magical quality of umami, and packaged it up to sell. But what’s actually in these products? The Mediterranean paste consists of: tomato puree, garlic, anchovy paste, black olives, balsamic vinegar, porcini mushrooms, parmesan cheese, olive oil, vinegar, sugar and salt. The Far Eastern version contains: miso, garlic, soy sauce, sunflower oil, yuzu juice, mirin, shiitake mushrooms, lemon juice, matcha, powdered ginger and salt. Interesting! I wonder what the matcha adds?! The dust contains: tomato powder, garlic, lemon peel, anchovy powder, spices, natural lemon flavour, balsamic vinegar and porcini mushroom powder.

None of the ingredients sound bad, but I’m not convinced they add up to ‘umami’.

Laura Santtini, creator of these products, describes herself as a ‘Cognitive Cook’, because her work “is all about exploring the inextricable link between flavours and feelings”. She created TASTE #5 UMAMI PASTE™ Far Eastern Recipe together with her “friend and mentor” Nobu Matsuhisa (of Nobu restaurant fame). You can find out more about these products, and even download recipes at

Maybe with the addition of these to my kitchen I’ll become a great, or even ‘extraordinary’ cook! We’ll see…

4 thoughts on “Umami (うま味)

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