It’s one of today’s hottest culinary topics. Everyone is looking for it. Everyone wants to add it. So, what exactly is umami, and how can you put it to work on your menu?

Mushroom Barley Soup RECIPE

In the West, we tend to think of four basic flavors: sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Umami (oo-MAH-mee) is the fifth flavor—often described as meaty, savory or brothy. And although it was first identified and analyzed in Japan in the early 20th century, umami has been around for thousands of years as the “secret weapon” of cooks looking to add flavor intensity.

Double Umami: Gai Lan
with Shiitake

Gai Lan with Shiitake

It’s a flavor that is harder to pin down than the other four. Yet if you know what to look for, umami is instantly recognizable. It’s the tongue-coating richness of reduced meat stock, the intensity of Parmesan cheese, the concentrated flavor of sautéed mushrooms or tomato sauce, and the complex, sweet-savory depth of traditionally brewed soy sauce.

What’s behind all of these umami-rich ingredients is a high concentration of certain amino acids—often the result of reduction or fermentation. But it’s what they do to other foods that is truly remarkable.

Umami ingredients boost flavor. Add them and foods taste richer, more intense, more fully rounded. And traditionally brewed Kikkoman Soy Sauce is one of the most versatile, all-purpose umami ingredients of all.


Soy Sauce & Umami

Kikkoman Soy Sauce is made from just four natural ingredients: water, wheat, soybeans and salt. A special yeast culture starts the fermentation process that transforms them into soy sauce over a period of several months, much like the process of making fine wine.

This is essentially how soy sauce has been made since its invention about 2,500 years ago, when it was created as a way to give vegetarian food more meaty flavor. In fact, it’s one of the world’s oldest umami ingredients.

Want to really understand umami once and for all? Try this simple, dramatic demo:

1. Place 1/4 cup warm low-sodium chicken broth in each of two small bowls. To one bowl, add 1/4 teaspoon Kikkoman Soy Sauce.

2. Taste the plain broth.

3. Now taste the Kikkoman-enhanced broth. Notice that you don’t really taste soy sauce, but the broth has more depth and a richer, meatier flavor.

Ponzu-mami: Easy
Lacquered Chicken

Easy Lacquered Chicken

But what makes it different from other umami ingredients is its versatility. You’re not going to add a pinch of Parmesan cheese or chopped mushrooms to just anything you cook. But traditionally brewed Kikkoman Soy Sauce, which contains more than 285 distinct flavor and aroma components, is an easily incorporated liquid that’s convenient to use and store. And when used in the right quantity, it can actually act as a natural flavor enhancer for just about anything savory. In other words, soy sauce can be “instant umami.”

One Plus One Equals Wow

This is especially useful when you’re preparing a dish that contains other umami-rich ingredients. Add soy sauce to beef, pork, chicken, seafood, mushrooms or tomatoes, for example, and you get an umami synergy. As the flavors combine, they add up to more than the sum of their parts.


The key to creating this synergy with soy sauce is balance. In most cases—especially when working with non-Asian foods, you want the soy sauce flavor to remain in the background, so that you perceive its salty, sweet, meaty qualities without actually identifying a pronounced soy sauce taste. So go slowly at first, as you would with salt or pepper, seasoning to taste until you get the proportions right.

Umami Made Easy—Get the Book

Want to find out more about how to add the flavor-boosting power of umami to your menu? Get your copy of Umami Made Easy, featuring menu items from some of America’s leading chefs. Packed with recipes, photos and ideas, this fresh, colorful collection proves a flavorful point: From Asian to Latin, Mediterranean and mainstream American—and everywhere in between—Kikkoman Soy Sauce is umami.

For your free copy, plus information about Kikkoman’s growing line of premium foodservice products,
click here or call 1(800) 944-0600.

Kikkoman Umami Book