The latest food fashion is not a dish, but an elusive “fifth taste”

The latest food fashion is not a dish, but an elusive “fifth taste”

British chef-writer Laura Santtini has managed to get umami into a tube (Image: laurasanttini.com) 

The Japanese have known about it for years, and researchers have confirmed its existence, but the Globe is just now declaring it fashionable. Umami is a taste (separate from sweet, sour, salty and bitter) first recognized by Japanese scientist Kikunae Ikeda more than a century ago. Apparently Canadian chefs are clamouring to get it into their dishes. “I do think people are really capitalizing on the name,” Andrew Novak, owner of Toronto restaurant Umami Sushi, told the Globe. “Everyone has something that they’re referring to as umami.”

The so-called fifth taste is ubiquitous in Japanese fare: seafood, shiitake mushrooms and tomatoes, as well as fermented and cured products, such as soy sauce. The flavour’s ability to elude description—it has been variously described as meaty and savoury, or like the sweet flavour of barbecued salmon—has whet the appetite of a few cunning profiteers. The Food Channel recently listed it among its top 10 food trends of 2010 (yes, they realize it’s only March), and umami was the subject of a cook-off on The Next Iron Chef. Yet, as Novak himself says, the brilliant thing about a basic taste is that you don’t have to eat out to enjoy it: “Home cooks could combine their own ingredients to achieve the same effect.”

• Everyone’s crazy for … umami? [Globe and Mail]