3. Dashi & Umami
The basic flavor of Japanese cuisine is Umami. Umami has been found to be a fifth taste, detected by certain taste buds, different to the sweet, sour, salty and bitter flavors that we know. Umami is a taste that stimulates the appetite, and is sometimes described as having a savory or meaty quality. The taste was first identified in the early 20th century, by Japanese chemist, Kikunae IKEDA.
The umami taste that is produced by Dashi (Japanese broth) is an important component that is at the heart of Japanese cuisine, and Japan has been practicing extracting only the essence of Umami using kombu kelp and bonito flakes to make this broth for around the past 500 years. In Japanese cooking, when the glutamic acid found in kombu kelp and the inosinic acid found in dried bonito flakes are combined, a synergy occurs, and the Umami is drawn out of the dashi. This is considered the origins of Dashi, and its use is at the heart of Japanese cuisine, preventing the need to use oil.
Just like French bouillon and Chinese tang, whatever the method of extraction, Dashi has been a basic component in cuisine the world over for many years now.
These days, there have been many instances of chefs from overseas, who have learned about Japanese Dashi extraction methods, and have added Umami-rich foods in to their bouillon to produce their own original broths.
Furthermore, these days, vegetables like tomato, and other Dashi ingredients from which Umami can be extracted, can be found all over the world, creating the potential for new kinds of Dashi, and endless possibilities for all kinds of new dishes.