As a concept, umami originated in Japan, where it’s subliminally informed their cuisine for centuries if not millennia, but it wasn’t until 1908 when “umami” was explicitly identified by a scientist in Tokyo. Since the 21st century, diners in the US have slowly become more familiar with umami and have become more adept at understanding its contributions to how we experience food.
Over the decades since 1908, scientists uncovered that this flavor is associated with a combination of glutamates and nucleotides, but that’s hardly how humans experience it. It’s difficult if not impossible to precisely describe umami with words, but our closest approximation might be “savory.” Umami is rich, deep, complex, and meaty, and then some.
This concept is a pillar of Japanese cuisine. In turn, when we think of dishes rich in umami, many if not most of the most iconic are from Japan.
Foods that are exceptionally umami forward include mushrooms, beef, soy sauce, seafood, seaweed, tomatoes, miso, cheese (especially sharper ones like blue and parmesan), cured and fermented foods… the list goes on. Some of the most shining examples of umami are dashi and ramen broths.
While everyone’s taste is different, we figure umami’s extreme deliciousness might just be the one taste that unites us all.