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What does Umami mean for Tea Drinking?


What does Umami mean for Tea Drinking?

As kids, we are taught that there are four basic tastes: salty, sour, sweet, and bitter, which are represented by a map of the tongue, which we probably did memorize when we were younger.

Not to burst your bubble, but experts have debunked the theory that a certain part of our tongue specifically detects a certain taste. Also, we do not just have four basic senses of flavor; instead, we have five! Namely salty, sour, sweet, bitter, and UMAMI.

You've probably watched a YouTube video or read food-centric blogs and articles and have encountered the word umami. And you probably wondered, "What on earth is umami? Is that Asian food? Seafood? A type of beef? Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Well, it is a great thing! And you’ve probably tasted umami, because whenever you eat, you’ll taste umami.

I will first explain exactly what umami is and then touch on how it relates to tea. Keep reading, as I also added a couple of interesting facts about umami at the end of the article.

What is Umami?

Umami (oo·maa·mee) うま味 is a Japanese term coined in the 1900s by Kikunae Ikeda, which means "rich flavor," "indescribable and intense flavor," "delicious," or "pleasant and savory taste."

Ikeda came up with the term umami when he was eating a bowl of seaweed soup (dashi) and found himself speechless since he could not describe the flavor and sensation in his tastebuds while eating the soup.

The Umami and Glutamate Connection

Glutamate is a kind of amino acid that naturally occurs in a lot of foods, such as dairy, meat, fish, and vegetables. As you cook these foods, natural glutamate breakdown takes place, which turns into L-glutamate, which makes food delicious and flavorful.

It is also responsible for giving your cooked meat, cheese, vegetables, and fish a complex and rich flavor that takes you into a flavorful dining experience. thus giving birth to monosodium glutamate, or MSG, as we all call it.

Does MSG Equate to Umami?

Sodium, the salt of glutamate, is known as the most common amino acid in our bodies and has different characteristics and tastes of savoriness than sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. Which is why you could say that MSG somehow equates to umami, since MSG, when added to any dish, will automatically be more flavorful.

However, umami is a tad bit subtler since it occurs naturally. Just like how salt is naturally readily available everywhere. And there are also naturally occurring sweeteners such as sugarcane and honey. While sour and bitter things can be found in a lot of fruits and vegetables, they perfectly balance out any dish while complementing its flavor palette.

Umami-filled Food: Everyone’s Guilty Pleasure

A lot of food and cuisine from all around the world contain some level of umami. However, some are stronger than others; cheeses, mushrooms, beef, seafood, green teas, and tomatoes are foods that are exceptionally high in umami.

Savory burgers, pizzas, tacos, pho, matcha latte, teas, and steak are such crowd favorites in terms of people who are seeking an umami-filled dining experience.

Umami and Tea Drinking

Green tea is naturally rich in glutamate, which is why it is famous for its savory and rich taste that everyone goes crazy about.

We probably know the benefits of drinking green tea and all that jazz, but let’s dive deeper into why we are so addicted to its taste. Is it its astringency? Its bitterness but rich flavor? Is it its sweetness? Well, it’s probably a mixture of them all!

And, everyone seems to not get satiated by green tea or matcha since it strikes a perfect balance of sweetness, bitterness, astringency, and, of course, UMAMI.

However, there are different levels of umami:

  • Gyokuro and Hojicha contain the highest level of glutamate among green tea varieties, containing a whopping 2500mg of glutamate! Which clearly explains its high level of umami.
  • Sencha, on the other hand, offers the sweetness that some people are looking for. It may be a bit mild for some, but for people who are just starting to explore green teas, this will be a perfect starting point. (Note: Gyokuro can be considered sencha but has higher glutamate.)

    Interesting Umami Facts

    Other than devouring and loving umami-centric food and beverages, here are some interesting facts about them!

  • Umami and Human Evolution

  • Just like the theory of evolution, our love for umami evolved as we humans revolutionized our dining experience. From craving sweet or savory foods to having a love-hate relationship with foods that are quite bitter.

  • Naturally Delicious

  • As we all know, we always have to season our food to taste. However, did you know that the moment you cook your meat, seafood, or vegetables, it breaks down its glutamate, which turns it into L-glutamate, which makes everything taste better? It also applies to the process of ripening fruits or vegetables as well as cheese’s aging process.

  • Umami and Breast Milk

  • Did you know that umami is basically the first thing that babies who were breastfed ever tasted? Well, breast milk contains a high concentration of umami since it is also rich in amino acids, which help boost the baby’s immune system.

    There you have it! Umami isn’t as superficial as some people make it seem. In fact, this magical fifth taste is basically found in most foods that we eat, and it definitely makes everything so much better.

    Buy Premium Japanese Green Tea with Rich Umami

    This article was originally published in 2020, but updated in 2023.

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