Book Reviews

Book Review: Umami


Ever since professor Kikunae Ikeda established the existence and influence of umami on taste in 1908, scientists and ordinary people have been discussing it in western societies.

In the Far East people understand its existence and make good use of imami containing ingredients such as algae, and soy sauce, just to name two. But there are many more umami containing foods.

Now, a little over century after the good professor discovered it, writers and scientists researching food have accepted umami as the fifth taste beside sweet, sour, acid, and bitter.

A biophysics professor, and a celebrated chef who explain how humans discern taste, the mechanisms of taste buds, foods that contain substantial amounts of umami, and how they contribute to elevate the taste of food wrote this book.

There are some recipes (about 50 ) that amateur chefs could try, but some of the ingredients may not be readily available in small towns in North America.

The book is full of scientific research results on amino acids, glutamate, inosinate, and other chemicals that contribute to taste.

But ultimately, taste depends on environment, culture, upbringing, and education. The palate must be “educated” and nurtured, and it needs an open mind!

The glossary on the back of the book alone represents an excellent value for those who want to understand taste, and perception of flavour.

MSG (monosodium glutamate) has been produced in Japan for more than 75 years, mainly by the Ajinomoto Company. Chinese eat substantial amounts of msg, and there has been no reported side effects, except for some people who attribute it as the Chinese food syndrome, and report unwell ness after eating in fast food Chinese establishments.

There is history, chemistry, research, beautiful pictures, and immeasurable amount of food wisdom in this outstanding book.

All chefs, anyone who cooks, as well as connoisseurs need this book as a reference. It should be mandatory for all culinary students.

Highly recommended.

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