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UMAMI

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UMAMI

Postby Dr. Goodword » Tue Sep 18, 2012 12:03 am

• umami •


Pronunciation: u-mah-mee • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: No, today's word is not an illiterate reference to your mother, but a word representing what many believe is a fifth taste. The same taste is referred to as xian wei in Chinese cooking.

Notes: The consensus is that the human tongue can detect only four basic tastes: sweet, sour, bitter and salty. All other tastes are combinations of these plus smell and texture. Some Japanese, however, contend that we have a fifth taste, that of savory, and they have named it umami "scumptiousness."

In Play: Recent years have seen an upsurge of Japanese and Chinese restaurants. Could we be witnessing a umami tsunami "a tidal wave scrumptiousness?" Since the meaning of today's word is narrowly limited the Japanese and Chinese fifth sense of taste, we have little opportunity of using it figuratively: "Everyone, who knows what it is, has a different idea of which foods have umami."

Word History: The Japanese word umami is a derived noun based on uma- "scrumptious, delicious" + -mi "ness", although the character for the suffix is often replaced by the character for mi "flavor". Around the turn of the century, Professor Kikunae Ikeda of Tokyo Imperial University began boiling seaweed called kombu in search of a fifth taste the tongue could identify. He found what he thought was that taste associated with a protein building-block, an amino acid called glutamate, as in monosodium glutamate, a common ingredient in Eastern cooking. Whether glutamate is a fifth flavor or just a natural flavor enhancer is still controversial, but those who support the Fifth Flavor Theory claim it is a meaty or savory flavor. (We are happy that Jim Wilcox of Eugene, Oregon had the uncommonly good taste to share his discovery of today's word with us and to Juliet Carpenter for her editorial services.)
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Re: UMAMI

Postby Philip Hudson » Tue Sep 18, 2012 10:50 am

The monosodium glutamate (MSG) controversy has its ups and downs. At present it is considered generally safe as a food additive. I remember a real scare that was rampant thirty or forty years ago. MSG was ubiquitous in Chinese cooking. People were complaining of neurological after-effects of eating foods containing MSG. Medical scientists say these complaints, while possibly real, have all been anecdotal. I remember Chinese restaurants posting "no MSG used here" on their menus. When it was very popular my wife used MSG. I never noticed any ill effects, so here is an au contraire anecdotal testimony. Then we quit using it at home. I think most Chinese restaurants use it now and it is used as a flavor enhancer in many prepared foods.

As for umami, I think it is in the taste buds of the eater as beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. I have never noticed any positive or negative effects of MSG flavoring. I am certain I would not be able to discern between the tastes of a dish using MSG and the same dish sans MSG.

Just to be on the safe side, there are labeling laws that must report the use of MSG.

I think it is a tempest in a soup pot.
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Re: UMAMI

Postby Perry Lassiter » Tue Sep 18, 2012 3:07 pm

Umami is a new word for me. To comment again about coffee flavor, as I did in re "percolate," would the difference between an average cup and a superior cup (say Kona or Jamaican Blue Mountain) be a clue as to whether or not one could say "umami"?
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Re: UMAMI

Postby Perry Lassiter » Tue Sep 18, 2012 3:09 pm

PS. Welcome to Juliet! Keep posting!
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Re: UMAMI

Postby Philip Hudson » Tue Sep 18, 2012 11:33 pm

Welcome Juliet. I hope to hear a lot from you.
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Re: UMAMI

Postby Dr. Goodword » Wed Sep 19, 2012 11:14 am

I realize now that Juliet's points are well taken and I, too, welcome her to the Agora.

This was a word I did 10 or 11 years ago, obviously without enough editing, and put up before coming to Colorado for my youngest granddaughter's 3rd birthday party. I promise to spend less time with my grandchildren the rest of this week and more time working on the Good Words! (Hey! No looking behind my back.)
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Re: UMAMI

Postby MTC » Wed Sep 19, 2012 2:37 pm

My post and Juliet's post have disappeared! What happened?
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Re: UMAMI

Postby Philip Hudson » Wed Sep 19, 2012 4:17 pm

What happened to Juliet's and MTC's posts? Please put them back.
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Re: UMAMI

Postby Dr. Goodword » Wed Sep 19, 2012 11:44 pm

Yours are still there, Philip. Juliet's were no longer valid; I credited her with editorial advice in the GW. If I deleted one of yours I thought it was irrelevant because i revised the GW along lines you had suggested.
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Re: UMAMI

Postby Philip Hudson » Thu Sep 20, 2012 12:12 am

Thank you, Good Doctor.
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Re: UMAMI

Postby wurdpurrson » Thu Sep 20, 2012 12:43 am

This word is a familiar one to me, as I lived in Japan for a bit and learned some of the language. However, may I offer a slight correction to the pronunciation guide from the Good Doc? In Japanese, the first "u" is not pronounced "yu" - it is a simple long "u" sound, rather like a double "oo" as in "yoohoo", but shorter: oo-mah-mee.

And I'm most curious about Juliet's posting, since there were a few comments about it. ??
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Re: UMAMI

Postby Philip Hudson » Thu Sep 20, 2012 1:03 am

wurdpurrson: The Good Doctor revised his definition and gave credit to Juliet for her help. Reread his definition.
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Re: UMAMI

Postby MTC » Thu Sep 20, 2012 5:44 am

What is going on at this site?

My post has been deleted without explanation. In the post among other things I noted that Juliet also characterized "umami" as an adjective. Dr. Goodword responds to another poster --but not to me-- that if his post was deleted, Dr. Goodword must have thought it "irrelevant."

This is not the way to expand viewership.
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Re: UMAMI

Postby Slava » Thu Sep 20, 2012 12:21 pm

MTC wrote:What is going on at this site?

My post has been deleted without explanation. In the post among other things I noted that Juliet also characterized "umami" as an adjective. Dr. Goodword responds to another poster --but not to me-- that if his post was deleted, Dr. Goodword must have thought it "irrelevant."

This is not the way to expand viewership.

Perhaps we could say the Dr.'s response was "not elegantly phrased"? Instead of irrelevant, perhaps "no longer relevant as the post referred to another deleted post" would have been a better way of putting it.
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Re: UMAMI

Postby LukeJavan8 » Thu Sep 20, 2012 12:42 pm

Whew!
Reading this thread is an effort in concentration.
Very convoluted. I understand why, but whew!
-----please, draw me a sheep-----
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