When referring to teas, you might often encounter the term "umami", but what exactly is it? Here we will try to break down for you this somewhat mysterious word.
The term umami is originally Japanese, however, nowadays it is so well known to the western world that it is not rare to find it used on product labels, menus, food articles, and the like. It is also not rare to encounter this word in the tea drinkers community, with Japanese teas especially containing a high level of umami.
What is Umami?
Umami is known to be the fifth taste, joining sweet, sour, salty and bitter. It is a primary, or basic taste.
Umami was first discovered by Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda in 1907, who first extracted monosodium glutamate from kelp. Nowadays this umami seasoning called Ajinomoto is used in Japanese cooking daily and is found in most households throughout Japan and even abroad.
To define things in a more technical manner, the term umami is used mainly for substances combining the amino acid glutamate, as well as the nucleotides inosinate and guanylate.
Some foods which are the biggest source of umami include soy sauce, seaweed, mushrooms, sardines and bonito, tomatoes, and aged cheeses like parmesan cheese.
How Can We Taste Umami?
Umami is a very delicate taste. Subtle. It is a taste that spreads across the tongue, coating it completely. Lingering. Bringing a mouthwatering sensation. A pleasant savory taste.
Green tea is rich in glutamate, an amino acid which produces a satisfying, savory umami taste. Anyone who has tried green tea will perhaps have sensed varying levels of sweet, umami, astringent, and bitter tastes. While the sweet and umami tastes result from theanine and glutamate, the astringent taste comes from catechin and the bitter taste from caffeine.
Which Teas Contains The Most Umami?
Teas that contain the most umami are first flush teas, made from young tea leaves that are picked early and do not yet have a lot of sun exposure; and gyokuro, as it is grown in the shade. On the other hand, teas like hojicha (made from mature leaves) contain less umami.
Of course, this is not to say that teas with lower umami are inferior. It all depends on the occasion. While drinking tea on its own or before a meal one might prefer something with richer umami, lower umami teas are perfect after meals because of their mellow, refreshing qualities.