The book

  • “… seamlessly meshes science and gastronomy” (Nature)
  • “… richly illustrated and packed with umami-rich recipes to try at home” (Times Literary Supplement)
  • “… plenty of practical guidelines and simple suggestions” (Japan Times)
  • “An engaging read… Umami is at once a scientific treatise, cultural history, unique collection of recipes, and handsome coffee-table–or for that matter, kitchen-table–book.”  (American Scientist)

Selected as the USA winner in the Gourmand Best in The World competition in the category: Best Translation Cookbook, 2015.

Excerpted from UMAMI, a  book published by Columbia University Press (2014). Used by arrangement with the publisher. All rights reserved.

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About the book: How it all began
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In much of the Western world, conventional wisdom has it that there are only four different basic tastes—sour, sweet, salt, and bitter—and that delicious food is characterized by a particularly felicitous combination of these taste impressions. In many parts of East Asia, however, an additional concept, umami, has entered the mainstream in the course of the last century. It denotes a fifth basic taste and is a Japanese expression to describe something that is savory or delicious. Umami is complex and distinct unto itself.

Umami: Unlocking the Secrets of the Fifth Taste provides a unique and all-encompassing overview of this fifth taste by combining aspects of cultural history, science, food preparation, nutrition, and wellness with a narrative about food cultures, the culinary arts, and the evolution of the human instinct to seek out food that is pleasing to the palate. The taste of food has been a driving force in human evolution and umami is simply a new word for an ancient taste impression.

Umami can easily be found in common ingredients such as soup stocks, meat dishes, aged cheeses, air-dried ham, shellfish, mushrooms, and ripe tomatoes.

We have now discovered which substances in foodstuffs can bring out umami. What is particular about them is that even in small quantities they can enhance each other and amplify other types of taste substances in a meal to such an extent that one can say that the gustatory experience takes on a whole new dimension. Knowledge of these interactions can be used to help us prepare delicious and more nutritious food that, as a bonus, contains less salt, fat, and sugar.

This volume is the product of an unusual, on-going collaboration between a chef and a scientist, who undertook a joint project to unlock the secrets of the fifth taste. They describe their experiences along the way and present a wide range of recipes and good advice about how we can turn to umami to take our cooking to a new level. The book can be used as a cookbook, but to an equal extent it can be thought of as an incentive to discover more about the subtleties of taste and as a source of inspiration.

Estofado is a traditional Spanish simmered dish, where meat, tomatoes, vegetables, and potatoes provide lots of umami (Photo: Jonas Drotner Mouritsen)

Advance praise for Umami

The book is written in a very engaging manner, easily moving between vignettes of the latest science and mouth-watering menus and photographs.
Gordon Shepherd, author of Neurogastronomy

A remarkably comprehensive account of umami taste and one in which the science is not only accurate but accessible and interesting.
John Prescott, author of Taste Matters: Why We Like the Foods We Do

In his earlier books Sushi and Seaweeds, Ole Mouritsen wove together biological, chemical, and gastronomical perspectives into rich portraits of these intriguing foods. In Umami, writing with the chef Klavs Styrbæk, he does the same for this much celebrated yet enigmatic “new” taste. Umami is a wide-ranging and welcome progress report on our understanding of taste and deliciousness.
Harold McGee, author of On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen

This book will be your go-to umami resource. The content is cleverly layered with molecular-level explanations of how we taste, alongside rich cultural perspectives and beautiful recipes.  With its stunning graphics, this book is eye candy.
Amy Rowat, founder of Science & Food

Mouritsen and Styrbæk demystify and explain in layman’s terms the science of umami, including many Japanese elements that have not been explained in English before in an all-encompassing book. Along with Mouritsen’s other publications Sushi and Seaweeds, Umami will be referred to time and time again.
Yukari Sakamoto, author of Food Sake Tokyo

  • Ole G. Mouritsen & Klavs Styrbæk
    Columbia University Press, New York
    2014. $34.95
    ISBN: 978-0-231-16890-8