Umami;one of the basic tastes

Umami is one of the “five basic tastes”, along with sweetness, sourness, saltiness and bitterness. The primary contributors to umami in sake are amino acids, succinic acid, nucleotides, and such like, but it is also constituted to some extent by the complex products of the breakdown of rice and their tastes. Sake is made through the agency of a minimum of two micro-organisms, yeast and koji -kin, and by the very complex brewing system of multiple parallel fermentation, making for a large number of umami flavour components. Sake is internationally recognized to be an alcoholic beverage particularly rich in umami. Sake’s great affinity with food, its long history as a companion to meals, and also its traditional and contemporary use as a seasoning, are all due to its high umami content.

It was a Japanese, Professor Ikeda Kikunae of Tokyo Imperial University, who first formally identified umami flavour, identifying glutamic acid as the source in konbu (kelp, a fundamental ingredient in making Japanese dashi stock).

Umami sources can be broadly divided into three groups. They are: amino-acid-related (glutamic acid from konbu seaweed); nucleotide-derived (inosinic acid from katsuo bushi (dried, fermented smoked skipjack tuna, the second primary ingredient of dashi)) and guanylic acid from shiitake mushrooms); and organic acid-related (succinic acid from shellfish).

Umami works synergistically, so it is known that combining amino-acid-and nucleotide-related sources gives a spectacular increase in umami flavour.