What is Umami?
Translated, "Umami" is a Japanese word that can mean “pleasant savory taste”. Umami in culinary circles describes 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 put their finger on it. To understand umami, it might be helpful to think about how you might describe other tastes. For example, sweetness is being able to taste sugar or honey, sourness is describing something tart or sour, saltiness describes a salty flavor such as seawater or soy sauce, and bitterness describes a bitter flavor such as coffee or broccoli; some people say they can even 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 common thought is umami is 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 as it reacts with receptors in the tongue. Glutamate handles 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, glutamate receptors located in different areas of the tongue trigger umami. This interaction causes people to interpret the flavor as if there were more salt on their food and an enjoyable sensation while eating.
Is Wagyu an Umami?
Wagyu beef features a mix of sweetness, saltiness, and sourness that creates umami. The intensity of wagyu beef flavor is dependent on its high glutamate content. Wagyu meats are also known for their tender texture and their high levels of marbling. Their high levels of fat content make these beef juicy and flavorful.
These kinds of beef are also 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 sought-after as these animals are raised in a way that allows for its unique and intense flavor to develop.