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In the West, we have identified only four basic tastes—sour, sweet, salty, and bitter—that, through skillful combination and technique, create delicious foods. Yet in many parts of East Asia over the past century, an additional flavor has entered the culinary lexicon: umami, a fifth taste impression that is savory, complex, and wholly distinct.
Combining culinary history with recent research into the chemistry, preparation, nutrition, and culture of food, Mouritsen and Styrbæk encapsulate what we know to date about the concept of umami, from ancient times to today. Umami can be found in soup stocks, meat dishes, air-dried ham, shellfish, aged cheeses, mushrooms, and ripe tomatoes, and it can enhance other taste substances to produce a transformative gustatory experience. Researchers have also discovered which substances in foodstuffs bring out umami, a breakthrough that allows any casual cook to prepare delicious and more nutritious meals with less fat, salt, and sugar. The implications of harnessing umami are both sensuous and social, enabling us to become more intimate with the subtleties of human taste while making better food choices for ourselves and our families.
This volume, the product of an ongoing collaboration between a chef and a scientist, won the Danish national Mad+Medier-Prisen (Food and Media Award) in the category of academic food communication.
There are recipes inside, but this is not a cookbook. It is an exploration of taste shared between a biophysicist and a chef of the fifth mode of taste, Umami. From tracing the roots of the savory, complex, and wholly distinct concept in Eastern Asia to its widespread popularity and acceptance as a distinct taste in the world, this is a book meant for those interested in food as a mix of art and science. With multiple chapters and sections on the biology, chemistry, and physiology of taste, this book is all about balance. Maintaining equilibrium between sensors on the tongue and the ingredients composing a dish to allow for the greatest culinary experience, the science behind why we enjoy our food is highlighted through specific recipes that feature Umami, the last little punch that pulls a complete dish together to make it savory and fulfilling. For example, the way to make the perfect Japanese dashi or the correct method to employ seaweed and konbu, the motherload of umami, are all there to help inform the reader on how to use mind and ingredients to enhance the sense of deliciousness present in a meal. There are recipes throughout the book see Oysters au gratin with a crust of nutritional yeast and smoked shrimp head powder or Deep-fried eggplants with miso (nasu dengaku) but these are there in order to help highlight the power of umami. This book, then, is not just for people who want to know how to make things taste good, but why things taste good.