Atlas Obscura on umami's historic culinary journey

You may know it as monosodium glutamate (MSG) but umami is one of the most popular flavours in the world. Atlas Obscura tracked its journey around the world, its name origins, and dispelled myths over what umami actually is:

Umami comes from molecules found in meat (inosinate), plants (guanylate), or both (free glutamate). Some processes like aging and fermenting create free glutamate, bringing out the umami flavor. (Think: cured meats or cheeses.) But umami is also strongly present in mushrooms, seafood, and tomatoes. The latter points to why ketchup is such a popular condiment: its umami-ness acts as a flavor enhancer.

I covered some of the racist history of MSG (monosodium glutamate) a few Decembers ago but with Atlas Obscura’s article, it’s good to see just how far umami has travelled in terms of awareness and the various names and foods it shows up in.

  • Umami in tomato ketchup? Check.
  • Umami in bacalhau? Check.
  • Umami in aged cheese? Check.
  • Umami in smoked mackerel? Check.

And the name “umami”? It comes from the Japanese word umai, meaning “delicious”. I’ll eat to that!

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