In addition to the basic 4 senses of taste – sweet, sour, salt, and bitter, our tongues possess the ability to detect a unique fifth quality. Since ancient Rome, talented chefs have created dishes satisfying this fifth sense of taste which eludes clear description – a sense of savory which appeals to our intuitive desire for protein. In 1909, Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda coined the term umami , the “beautiful taste“. to describe the ability of our tongues to specifically detect foods rich in glutamic acid and 2 ribonucleotides, 5′-inosinate and 5′-guanylate.
Traditional Japanese cuisine contains a high quantity of umami elements. Dashi, the clear broth base used universally in Japanese dishes, starts with soaking kombu, a dried kelp which has the highest natural levels of glutamate of any food in the world. Dashi may be enhanced with katsuobushi (dried bonito or tuna flakes), shiitake mushrooms and niboshi (dried baby sardines). Katsuobushi and niboshi contain high levels of inosinate, and dried shiitake mushrooms contain guanylate,
Additional umami-rich foods found in Japanese cooking include a variety of seafood, soy beans, Chinese cabbage, eggs, and green tea. Other cultures incorporate umami in the use of tomatoes, olive oil, Parmesean cheese, potatoes, and ham.
Which brings us to Japanese curry, that unique spin on an Indian tradition appealing to all 5 senses of taste. Along with the bitter notes imparted from 20+ spices , Japanese curry incorporates sweet fruity notes, saltiness, as well as umami from the roux base and dashi elements. Add rakkyo and fukujinzuke pickles for a sour note and you have the perfect blend of mouth-watering curry. Is it any wonder Japanese curry is so addictive?