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Why umami makes everything better

The fifth taste is what makes your burgers so flavorful

Admit it: You probably saw multiple food shows that constantly talk about how a dish has “that umami flavor.” There are also ads that promote the sprinkling of umami in chopsuey or sinangag among other dishes. 

A lot of people know umami as the fifth taste, but how is it different from the four flavor profiles we already know? If you were ever skeptical about the existence of umami, it’s actually a real flavor rooted in science. Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda coined the term in 1908 when he discovered that glutamic acid gave dashi, a seaweed broth, its distinct savory flavor.

Today, umami is associated with monosodium glutamate (MSG), the crystallized version of glutamic acid, which is common in Asian dishes. The odd thing is MSG is seen as unhealthy, when, really, it’s basically an enhancer to bring out a dish’s umami flavor. Does that make sense or do you want to order in some umami-flavored food right now to make sure?

Sriracha Tokyo Wings from Tokyo Tokyo

Bento box
Sriracha Tokyo Wings from Tokyo Tokyo

Chicken has a natural umami flavor in it, which can be enhanced with the right seasoning and sauces. For a spicy kick, go for Tokyo Tokyo’s Sriracha Tokyo Wings. If you’re eating this with rice, it will absorb some of the sriracha and juices from the chicken. It’s a win-win situation.

Jumbo Beef Pepper Rice from Pepper Lunch

Sizzling rice
Jumbo Beef Pepper Rice from Pepper Lunch

When people describe umami, they often bring up the heartiness found in steak and beef. Now, combine beef with other ingredients like black curry pepper, corn, black pepper, and garlic steak cheese—you get an umami flavor bomb like with Pepper Lunch’s Jumbo Beef Pepper Rice. Just don’t make the mistake of diving in while the dish is still burning hot. (Yes, I’ve made that same mistake before, too.)

Fish Fillet Oriental from Giligan’s

Fish fillet dish
Fish Fillet Oriental from Giligan’s

Various seafood contain glutamate, which gives them that subtle savory flavor. With dishes like Giligan’s Fish Fillet Oriental, the sauce makes the fish’s natural umami flavor stand out even more, which is a plus for seafood lovers everywhere.

And, no. MSG is not bad for you.

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