Wednesday, October 26, 2005

UMAMI (Flavour number 5)


Rob Shipman
Executive Chef
P.O. Box 60136,
CY-8125 Pafos,

At the Almyra, I use only the freshest of ingredients. I cook with intuition and follow my heart. I experiment constantly, and enjoy the thrill of innovativation, nevertheless not just for the sake of being in vogue. Sometimes I place ingredients that don’t normally meet on the same plate. Mind you I can’t just randomly throw ingredients together and hope for the best, consequently there is a rulebook that I employ. Regarding these rules…in a word, I would say…understanding. I do everything I can to value the properties of each ingredient I use. Over the years I’ve dug deep into the science of cooking. Allow me to explain… of all the gems that I have unearthed in my studies, this one… that I share with you now is the most precious…UMAMI.

In the last ten years a revolution in the understanding of taste has occurred. Western science has traditionally identified four basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty and bitter, Asia, on other hand, has traditionally favored the notion of five basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and hot (pepper hot). These five tastes have been referenced in Chinese literature from the third century B.C. In Japan however, umami has replaced the fifth taste (hot). In 1908 Mr. Ikeda at Tokyo Imperial University was intrigued by the distinctive flavor of seaweed broth, during his studies he was the first to isolate and identify one element of the umami taste, the amino acid glutamate. umami is difficult to translate into English. Linguists have suggested that umami has English equivalents, of savory, or meaty. In Asia there is considered to be a spiritual and mystical quality to umami.

A large number of the world’s population regularly eat fermented fish and like it! In the Mediterranean region, salted anchovy has been used since the roman times. Throughout Asia, fish sauce is used as a food seasoning. Why…when used correctly the umami component in these seasonings appeal to our 5th taste sense...our "protein tooth". The five senses of taste help us acquire foods that are necessary for survival. The "sweet tooth" motivates us to like high calorie sweet foods. The taste for salt helps us get the salt we require to maintain our osmotic balance. Sour and bitter tastes trigger an avoidance reaction because many acid or alkali natural products are hazardous. So what's left? We have to eat essential amino acids to remain healthy. The "protein tooth" likes the taste of free amino acids because they keep us healthy.

Tomatoes, seafood and soy sauce all contain active umami substances. Fermented proteins such as cheese and miso are especially high in umami. It's important to note that various active umami substances have synergistic properties. That is to say that when combined with each other, their delicious umami taste is multiplied rather that added up. In other words amino acids put together in one dish are worth more than the sum of their components.

When I discovered umami it changed my way of thinking. I became able to create dishes without relying so much on herbs and spices. I still use herbs and spices in my cuisine of course, although I recognize their place and the roll they play.
Umami has enhanced my cooking, and helped me to achieve the results I was looking for. At the Almyra I base my cuisine on Umami.


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