What is Umami?
"Umami" is a Japanese word that can be translated to mean “pleasant savory taste”, but in culinary circles the term is more commonly used to describe a taste sensation that feels satisfying, savory, and meaty.
In other words, umami is the sensation that makes food satisfying and tasty.
How Do We Taste Umami?
While most people have an idea of what umami tastes like, they might not be able to really put their finger on it. To understand umami, it might be helpful to think about how you might describe other tastes -sweetness is being able to taste sugar or honey; sourness is describing something tart or sour; saltiness can be used to describe a salty flavor such as sea water or soy sauce; bitterness describes a bitter flavor such as coffee or broccoli; some people say they can experience fruity flavors like apple pie.
Think of umami as a "fifth" taste in addition to sweet, salty, sour and bitter. It is the quality of richness or satisfying fullness in food. The fifth taste is determined by the presence of glutamate - an amino acid - in the food and drink.
Where Do We Taste Umami?
In meat, glutamate contributes to the intensity of taste because it reacts with certain receptors in the tongue causing an immediate reaction in the brain. Glutamate is responsible for the “meatiness” or intense savory flavor of foods. It helps us detect flavors in food, which allows us to enjoy tastes that are otherwise undetectable to the human palate.
As for where on the tongue it occurs, umami appears to be triggered by glutamate receptors located on different areas of the tongue. This reaction causes people to feel as if there is more salt on their food and an enjoyable sensation when eating it.
Is Wagyu an Umami?
Wagyu beef features a mix of sweetness, saltiness, and sourness that creates umami. The intensity of wagyu beef's flavor is largely dependent on its high glutamate content. Wagyu meats are also known for their incredibly tender texture and their high levels of marbling. Their high levels of fat content make these beefs extremely juicy and flavorful.
These beefs are also highly sought out by chefs because they provide a rich source of flavor that is hard to find in other less fatty cuts. Their flavor profile is also highly sought-after as these animals are raised in a way that allows for its unique and intense flavor to develop.