what is umami

What is Umami? Secrets of the Japanese flavor a.k.a. MSG

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If you ever wondered what is umami, otherwise known as MSG, or perhaps you are looking for some other information about this spice – you’ve come to the right place.

We at Foodscene pride ourselves in bringing our readers flavors from all over the world and that is exactly what umami is – a flavor very commonly found on one end of the globe, yet completely unknown and mysterious on the other.

What is Umami?

Umami is a flavor, but it is also a chemical compound. It is also known among chemists  as MSG or monosodium glutamate. It is commonly found in dishes all across Asia and it is slowly starting to take over Europe and American hearts as well.

This molecular compound was discovered and isolated in 1908 by Kikunae Ikeda, a Japanese chemist who was curious to find what gave flavor to a type of Japanese seaweed stock.

He found that the flavor came from the glutamic acid, and later gave it the name we now know – umami, which roughly translates as “deliciousness”.

MSG vs Umami

So, the MSG vs Umami debate comes down to this, and it’s really simple – umami is a flavor, while MSG is what creates the flavor.

As we said before, the flavor comes from the molecular compound known as monosodium glutamate or sodium glutamate.

MSG, the molecular compound, is a naturally occurring chemical compound that is found in different types of plants and animals, but mostly seaweed, tomatoes, fish, and such.

So, the flavor of umami comes from the compound – but what does the flavor of umami taste like? Well, you’re about to find out.

Umami flavor

You may not know what is umami – but you definitely know the umami flavor if you ever tried it. It’s not something you’ll easily forget.

But where does it come from? Well, as we mentioned before, the umami taste was first discovered in Japan, and if you ever tried traditional Japanese dashi then you’ll be able to compare them.

Dashi is a stock made from a combination of kombu (kelp seaweed) and katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) – and it is umami, or rather MSG (monosodium glutamate) which is found in the kelp seaweed.

According to Japanese culture, umami is the 5th primary taste, right next to sweet, salty, sour and bitter. It is a traditional classic, just like kimchi.

Umami definition

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of umami is:

“The taste sensation that is produced by several amino acids and nucleotides (such as glutamate and aspartate) and has a rich or meaty flavor characteristic of cheese, cooked meat, mushrooms, soy, and ripe tomatoes”

Recipes with umami

Many Japanese recipes call for the addition of umami to the meal. It is very commonly found in dishes that require stir frying or sautéing, as that it can be easily integrated in almost any dish.

Here are two dishes made with umami which will send you on a rollercoaster of flavors.

Simple Umami Sauce recipe

This umami sauce recipe is very simple to make, as its name would like you to believe. This umami sauce is slightly spicy due to the ginger, black pepper and garlic.

It goes well with beef, especially the NY strip steak, and most chicken dishes, roasts and similar dishes as well.

Simple Umami Sauce

This sauce is very simple to make, and goes well with sirloin steaks and other types of beef, as well as chicken and roasts.
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time5 mins
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: Japanese
Keyword: msg, UMAMI
Servings: 20
Calories: 122kcal


  • 2 tsp date syrup or date sugar
  • 1/2 tsp  jarred tomato paste
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp  fresh ginger grated
  • 1 tbsp blackstrap molasses
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 tsp garlic minced
  • 2 tsp white miso paste blended with 2 tbsp water
  • 2 tsp blended peeled lemon
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar


  • Heat up the vegetable broth in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and ginger and simmer for 3 minutes.
  • Stir in the molasses, tomato paste, black pepper and Date Syrup, and bring just to a boil.
  • Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 1-2 minutes
  • Remove from the heat, and then stir in the miso mixture, blended lemon, and rice vinegar. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if needed.
  • Allow the sauce to cool before pouring it in a jar or a glass bottle.

Vegan Umami Noodles

This recipe for vegan umami noodles will probably quickly become your new favorite recipe.

It call for a large amount of food – which means you can feed the whole family and then have some more.

Vegan Umami Noodles

These vegan noodles will quickly become your new favority dish as the warm broth and amazing noodles will be everything you'll need to warm up this winter.
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time2 hrs 30 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Japanese
Keyword: msg, noodles, UMAMI, vegan
Servings: 10
Calories: 180kcal


For the broth

  • 4 tsp white Miso paste
  • 4 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp bouillion powder
  • 4 tbsp MSG
  • 2 liter water
  • 30 gr dried shitake mushrooms
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp sessame oil

For the toppings

  • 2 tbsp sessame oil
  • 2 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
  • 1 tsp MSG
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 300 gr Tofu
  • 250 gr fresh shitake mushrooms
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 can organic corn
  • 2 pcs Pak Choi
  • 500 gr vegan ramen noodles
  • 1 spring onion


For Broth

  • Chop garlic, onions and ginger
  • Heat oil in the pan and sauté the onions, garlic and ginger
  • Add dried mushrooms and fry for 2-3 min
  • Add the water and spices (except for the miso paste)
  • Boil briefly and then simmer over low heat and covered 1-2 hours
  • Sift and put the broth back in the pot, stir in the Miso paste and, if necessary, season with additional MSG

For Toppings

  • Cook the noodles according to the package instructions
  • Chop carrots, quarter the pak choi and add to the ramen cooking water and blanch briefly
  • Dice tofu, mix with the starch and the umami spice and bake in the sesame oil. Take off stove.
  • Fry the shitake mushrooms in the tofu pan and add some tamari or soy sauce
  • Divide the broth into bowls and add the toppings as desired – serve with sprouts, sesame seeds and spring onions

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