Chefs Around the World Praise Umami
Umami, which literally means “essence of deliciousness” in Japanese, has come a long way since it “the fifth taste” was first discovered more than 100 years ago.
Unbeknown to him, Auguste Escoffier, a 19th century French chef, created umami with his invention of veal stock, though there was no name for it yet. If his name sounds familiar, The Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts is named after him.
Some of the best chefs today all around the world have discovered the unique benefits of adding umami to their recipes. Here are a few quotes from these chefs and culinary experts:
Alexander Bourdas, owner/chef, SaQuaNa Restaurant (France):
“If I were to define umami, I would call it a comfortable taste. So I use it to give diners greater pleasure from their food. I want to keep making dishes that tap the power of umami in original ways, ranging freely beyond the bounds of convention and genre.”
David Kinch, owner/chef, Manresa Restaurant (California):
“Umami is an important factor in all of my dishes, for the balance of flavors and synergistic effects. I’m trying to reduce the fat in what is served at the restaurant, and umami not only makes for healthier food, but makes dishes delicious and satisfying.”
Michael Anthony, Chef, Gramercy Tavern (Chicago):
“Umami is a way to make dishes compelling yet keep them restrained. Discovering umami gives us a chance to create savory dishes that are irresistible even with just a few ingredients, because it brings the natural deliciousness of those ingredients to the fore.”
Nobuyuki Matsuhisa, owner/chef, Nobu Restaurant (Japan):
“What I always keep in mind when using umami in cooking is maintaining a balance with the other four tastes. Combining umami in a balanced way with other basic tastes such as sour and sweet gives flavors a well-rounded quality.”
Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, owner/chef, Malabar Restaurant (Peru):
“Umami creates deep taste and harmony. By combining umami ingredients, I can come up with dishes that are balanced and full of rich flavor. There are a lot of Peruvian ingredients rich in umami, and I love using them in the food at my restaurant.”
Adam Fleischman, owner/founder, Umami Burger restaurant chain (USA):
“We come from the prospective of good flavor. Umami is the savory taste and we add a lot of umami to the burger to give a craveable quality to the burger.”
Virgilio Martinez, owner chef, Central (Peru):
“As a chef, discovering the umami taste changed my way of thinking about cooking. I play with umami a lot more in the cold preparations, to enhance the taste of raw seafood with just a little seasoning and using the taste of the product to my advantage.”
John Prescott, food consultant (Australia):
“Most of our dishes use tomatoes, stock, and vegetables that are sources of umami. I think that Western consumers have been very familiar with umami quality, but have used the term ‘savory’, which most likely reflects not only the taste component (umami) but also the odor/flavor component. It hasn’t been clear to most people that there is a distinct taste like sweetness that is umami.”
Koji Shimomura, owner chef, Edition Koji Shimomura (Japan):
“Umami allows you to create dishes flavorsome yet light. It also strikes me that umami can be used to keep food appetizing in environments where impact on sense of taste is a concern, such as inflight meals. I imagine that from here on, chefs will need to learn increasingly more about umami and how to make the most of it.”
Hiroshi Yamaguchi, general manager/head chef, Kobe Kitano Hotel (Japan):
“In French cuisine, seasonings are prepared from the foods. When the tastes of various ingredients expand from point to line to surface, it is umami that draws out the flavors of those ingredients and renders them harmonious. Umami plays a huge role in the creation of unique French recipes that excite and astound.”
Andrew Zimmern, four-time James Beard award-winning TV personality, chef, and writer (USA):
“Broccoli with salt and butter on it is delicious. But broccoli with a little bit of brown butter and soy sauce and fish sauce is explosively addictive and craveable—you can’t not take a second bite of it. Now, fish sauce, and soy sauce are all loaded naturally with glutamic acid (or natural MSG). They have a tremendous amount of umami—and there were other dishes that I would use that would have MSG in them—from a health and wellness standpoint and a family standpoint, it’s incredible what umami seasoning (MSG) can do.”
Chris Koetke, chef and Vice President of both the Kendall College School of Culinary Arts and Laureate International Universities Center of Excellence in Culinary Arts (USA):
“As a chef, I focus on umami just as I also pay attention to the other 4 basic tastes when building a dish. When thinking about incorporating umami flavor into a recipe, there are two basic paths I can take. I can add umami along with other flavor profiles, or I can add it in its pure form. If I choose the first technique, I can reach for umami rich ingredients like soy sauce, miso, aged cheeses, cured meats, anchovy, fish sauce, sauerkraut, etc. When I use these ingredients, I get a big umami boost and a host of other flavor compounds which will ideally complement the recipe. If I choose the second umami technique, I simply add monosodium glutamate. MSG is the ingredient responsible for umami whether it is in a particular food or if it is on its own. When MSG is added to a recipe, the umami taste simply goes up in the same way that a sprinkle of salt increases saltiness.”
Recent Culinary Creations by Top Chefs
Recent culinary creations by top chefs are advancing the use of umami to entice diners to enjoy delicious and healthy cuisine around the world. Some examples are below; in each instance the chef managed to come up with a delicious umami-rich culinary creation.
Michael Anthony, Gramercy Tavern, USA
Using ingredients seasonal to Kyoto in the winter, such as snow crab, yuzu citron, and kintoki ninjin carrots, Chef Anthony has created a colorful snow crab salad, accompanied by an umami-rich dressing.
David Chang, MOMOFUKU, USA
Having used both kombu and bacon – umami-rich ingredients representing Japan and the West respectively – to draw out an intense stock, Chef Chang adds seasonal Japanese vegetables, rich in umami, such as Japanese mustard leaves and kyo ninjin carrots, to create an impressive soup brimming with fresh flavor.
Mauro Colagreco, Mirasour, France
Chef Colagreco combines seasonal Kyoto vegetables, such as Shogoin turnip, red turnip and kyo ninjin carrots, with French winter vegetables, such as the romanesco cauliflower, into a base of ichiban dashi and white miso, to create a mellow soup with intense flavors, successfully marrying umami-rich flavors from both East and West.
Sat Bains, Restaurant Sat Bains, UK
Chef Bains selects a variety of ingredients of varying color and texture, such as pork, large prawns, cauliflower and persimmon, to create an elaborate dish seasoned with kombu dashi, yuzu citron, and Marmite, a British condiment rich in umami taste.
Adam Rawson, Pachamama in Marylebone, Peru
Chef Rawson glazes his lamb belly dish with a mix of white miso paste, rice vinegar, light brown sugar and butter so it has a nice balance of salty, sweet and creamy. Even the carrots are cured in miso for three days before being grilled. It extracts some of the juices, increases the natural sweetness and also seasons them without the use of salt.
Claude Bosi, Hibiscus, UK
Chef Bosi has produced an imaginative dessert, combining a myriad of Japanese ingredients to make yuzu citron-flavored ice cream with a hint of wasabi, a vivid strawberry sauce, a croustillant made with broad beans and wasanbon sugar, and Japanese pears.