In the West, we tend to think of four basic flavours: sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Umami (oo-MAH-mee) is the fifth flavour—often described as meaty, savory or brothy.

Although it was first identified and analysed in Japan in the early 20th century, umami has been around for thousands of years as the “secret weapon” of cooks looking to add flavour intensity.

It’s a flavour that is harder to pin down than the other four. Yet if you know what to look for, umami is instantly recognisable. It’s the tongue-coating richness of reduced meat stock, the intensity of Parmesan cheese, the concentrated flavour of sautéed mushrooms or tomato sauce, and the complex, sweet-savory depth of naturally 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 flavour. Add them and foods taste richer, more intense, more fully rounded. Kikkoman Naturally Brewed Soy Sauce is one of the most versatile, all-purpose umami ingredients of all.

Soy Sauce & Umami

Kikkoman Naturally Brewed 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 flavour. In fact, it’s one of the world’s oldest umami ingredients.

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 Naturally Brewed Kikkoman Soy Sauce, which contains more than 300 distinct flavour and aroma components, is an easily incorporated liquid that’s convenient to use and store.

When used in the right quantity, it can actually act as a natural flavour 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 flavours 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 flavour 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.