Have you ever heard the word “ Umami”?
You might have heard this word more than once in the past. Because the word Umami has become popular and global.
Maybe the globally accepted definition for Umami is “a noun to describe a flavor”.
However, in Japan, Umami is a bit loaded word and we often use it in situations not related to foods.
Let’s learn a little bit deeply about Japanese Umami.
1. Umami in Japanese
Today , we generally define Umami as “the 5th flavor other than
To put it simply, Umami is a deep and a bit complicated flavor which had not been clarified in ancient Japan.
Although the word Umami has existed for quite a long time, the usage of this style started relatively recently, that is, at the beginning of the 20th century.
In 1908, Dr. Ikeda Kikunae discovered monosodium glutamate (MSG) and used the name Umami to describe its flavor.
Thus he opened up a door to develop “Umami” seasonings and gave a new possibility for Japanese Umami.
Scientifically speaking, Umami is mainly caused by amino acids (such as glutamic acid and aspartic acid), nucleotides of nucleic acid constituents (such as inosinic acid, guanylic acid and xanthylic acid) and other organic acids (such as succinic acid and its salts).
Of course, Umami is a word for good flavor.
Because Umami is a noun which has its origin in an adjective Uma-i.
2. Umai in Japanese
Uma-i means good or delicious.
To tell the truth, according to the most supported theory, Umai has its origin in Amai which means sweet.
Maybe you can easily recognize that “Umai” and “Amai” are quite similar.
In ancient times, sweet foods were very precious and everyone loved sweetness. Of course, no one doubted that sweet (Amai) is delicious (Umai).
Later, as the sense of taste developed among people, Umai separated itself from Amai and rapidly enriched its world.
Therefore today, many people reckon Umai and Amai as totally different concepts.
sweet Ohagi with Anko
By the way, if you are interested in the Japanese language, it must be interesting to know that Uma-i is used in various situations, not only for foods and drinks.
Kono saké wa umai ⇒ This sake is good.
Kare wa eigo ga umai ⇒He is good at English.
Kare wa kuchi ga umai ⇒He talks glibly.
So it is quite natural that the words both Umai and Umami are often used outside of food related situations.
Sometimes, they are used in the situations when someone slightly envies someone (of course, not so bitterly).
At the end, I have to talk about another adjective, Oishii.
As well as Umai, Oishii means good or delicious. But different from Umai, Oishii was used only in food related situations.
Yes, the usage of the word was “formerly” limited.
However language is always changing and recently Oishii has broadened its usage outside of food related world.
Kono shigoto wa oishii ⇒This job is profitable. We can get far more gains than our efforts.
Kono kankei wa oishii ⇒This relationship is beneficial for me (Sometimes, the speaker doesn’t care about the benefit of the other).
Thus, the situation surrounding Umai, Umami and Oishii is gradually changing in Japan.
I’m not sure that it is the result of the globalization of Umami.
But, anyway I’m happy if you think you’ve learned something about Japanese Umami.