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Umami

Umami, the greatest wisdom discovered by Japanese to “eat deliciously”

The most important element for the taste of washoku is dashi stock. It is the base for miso soup and clear soup, and is the cornerstone of flavor that determines the taste of various dishes including stewed dishes and ohitashi.

The fifth sense of taste, umami, is something Japan can be proud of to the world.

What cannot be forgotten when explaining the flavor of washoku is the presence of dashi stock. It is used as a base for various dishes such as soup and stew.

Why are Japanese people so fond of dashi? The key to the answer to this question is umami. In the book of cuisine written in the Edo period says that “dashi is precisely the foundation of cooking”.

In 1907, Dr. Kikunae Ikeda was the first in the world to discover that one of the umami contents is glutamic acid, a type of amino acid. Study was further carried out thereafter mainly among Japanese researchers, and umami is now widely known as the fifth sense of taste, in addition to sweetness, saltiness, sourness, bitterness. Today, seasonings that allow the use of an umami component easily are widely used such as umami seasonings and soy sauce seasoning with dashi. They are popular also abroad, and used daily in Japan.

Other than dashi, what essential for the taste of washoku is seasonings such as salt, sugar, miso, soy sauce, vinegar, sake, mirin (sweet rice wine) and fish sauce. Ingredients like wasabi, mustard, ginger, Japanese pepper, chili pepper and yuzu citrus are also used as relishes. With these relishes, the flavors of ingredients are brought out while allowing one to enjoy seasonal feelings at the same time, which is the wisdom of “WASHOKU”.

In Japan, where the climate is hot and humid in summer, fermented foods developed just like in other countries in Asia. Therefore, fermented seasonings, such as miso and soy sauce vinegar, are frequently used forwashoku. Most of them are made by fermenting salted soy bean and grains. In the course of preparation, the protein contained in the ingredients is degraded into amino acid, and changes into seasonings containing abundant umami components.

There are also various types of fermented foods. Fermented foods, which utilize the activities of microbes such as molds and yeasts to increase the amino acid (umami) contained in food, have developed in different regions in Japan. Takuan pickles were invented as a preservation food for winter. There are other types of pickles made by fermenting vegetables, such as sugukina-zuke of Kyoto which is made through lactic acid fermentation using salt, nukazuke, a type of pickles using rice bran, and narazuke, which uses sake lees. Fermented food is also made with seafood to improve storage life, such as shiokara, kusaya, narezushi and katsuobushi. There are also soy bean fermented foods, such as natto, made by fermenting soy bean with hay bacillus, and tera-natto, made by fermenting soy bean with koji molds and maturing after drying.

“WASHOKU” has been nurturing wisdom to wisely utilize umami and to eat foodstuff deliciously.

About dashi

 Katsuobushi and Kombu

The general method to prepare dashi is to extract the umami components from seafood or vegetables into water or hot water. The most frequently used ingredients for dashi are kombu and katsuobushi. Others include niboshi (dried small fish), vegetables, dried shiitake mushroom, fish guts, heads and bones. There are other methods to utilize the umami of ingredients, such as ushio-jiru.

Niboshi

 

Niboshi

Niboshi, made by drying boiled small fish, is often used for preparing soup. The most common ingredients of niboshi is Japanese anchovy. It is usually prepared with a relatively small fish like round herring, silver-striped round herring or flying fish.

Dried shiitake mushroom

 

Dried shiitake mushroom

Shiitake mushrooms, containing abundant umami components, are also one of the foodstuffs used for dashi. For preparing dashi, dried shiitake mushrooms are used because the umami and fragrance components of shiitake mushrooms increase when dried.

Fermented foods and seasonings 

Narezushi

Fermented foods

Narezushi, which is made by maturing salted fish and cooked rice for a few days to ferment with lactic acid, is wisdom to preserve fish. Those made with funa of Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture, with mackerel in Wakayama and Toyama Prefectures, and with ayu in Gifu Prefecture are well-known. The photo above shows the preparation of mackerel narezushi made for a festival at the beginning of the year in Kohoku Region, Shiga Prefecture.

Shiokara

Shiokara

Shiokara is made by salting fish meat and guts and fermenting. It is one of the traditional preserved foods in Japan. Ingredients vary by region, so there are various types of shiokara including squid, shrimp, ami (mysidacea) and octopus.

Natto

Natto

Natto is a fermented food developed in Japan. It is a food made by fermenting soy bean with hay bacillus, and is sometimes referred to as “itohiki-natto (stringy natto)” in order to distinguish it from tera-natto (below). It is not only eaten as-is, but also is used as ingredients for soup or dressing.

Tera-natto

Tera-natto

This is a fermented food made by adding koji molds to boiled soy bean for fermentation and maturing while being dried. Unlike stringy itohiki-natto, tera-natto is dry and salty. It is said that the food arrived from the continent together with the propagation of the Zen school, and is called tera (temple)-natto because it was often made in temples.

Pickles

Pickles

Pickles are made by pickling food materials in salt, vinegar, sake lees, soy sauce, etc. and maturing. It was invented as a way to preserve vegetables for a long time, such as takuan pickles (pickled daikon radish), pickled ume (Japanese plum) and nozawana (a leafy vegetable)-pickles. It is also characteristic that there is wide variety of original pickles in every region of Japan.

 

Fermented seasoning

Miso

Miso

Miso is one of the representative seasonings of Japan, made by fermenting and maturing steamed or boiled soy bean by adding koji and salt. It is often used for miso soup and stewed dishes. It is also characteristic that the type of miso varies largely among regions.

Soy sauce

Soy sauce

Soy sauce is made by fermenting, maturing and pressing “moromi,” which is koji made with soy bean and wheat diluted with salt water. It is used for a wide variety of dishes including sashimi, grilled fish, stewed dishes and pan-fried dishes. Soy sauce is divided into five groups: koikuchi (dark), usukuchi (light), tamari (rich), sai-shikomi (twice-brewed) and shiro (white).

Vinegar

Vinegar

Vinegar is a seasoning to add sourness in washoku dishes like sushi and namasu. It is made by adding acetic acid bacteria to sake brewed from rice. The preserving property of food is improved by dipping into vinegar.

Sake

Sake

Sake is also one of the essential seasonings for washoku. The major effects of sake as seasonings include killing the smell of ingredients, bringing out the umami of foodstuff and improving the flavor, and adding sweetness.

Mirin (Sweet rice wine)

Mirin (Sweet rice wine)

Mirin is a fermented seasoning made with steamed glutinous rice and rice malt, and by maturing for 40 to 60 days. Compared to sugar, its sweetness is softer, and it also has the effect of killing the smell of foodstuff. It is also used to make the surface of food glossy for dishes such as fish teriyaki.

Fish sauce

Fish sauce

Fish sauce, having a unique odor and strong umami, is made by fermenting salted fish. Shottsuru of Akita, made with Sailfin sandfish, and ishiru (or ishiri) of Noto Peninsula, made with squid and sardine, are well-known.

 

Seasonings

Salt

Salt

Salt has been used widely as a seasoning from ancient times in Japan, which is surrounded by the sea. Not only for seasoning dishes like grilled dishes and sashimi, it is also utilized for preserving foods, such as pickles and dried fish.

Sugar

Sugar

Sugar is one of the essential seasonings for modern washoku, which includes many dishes focusing on sweetness compared to the cuisines of other parts of the world. However, it is rarely used solely, but by combining with soy sauce, salt and miso in various dishes including stewed dish.

 

 

What is PFC balance?

PFC stands for protein, fat and carbohydrates, which are the three major nutrients especially essential for humans. PFC balance is the calorific ratio of protein, fat and carbohydrates of every meal. The ideal PFC balance for healthy life is protein: 15%, fat: 25%, and carbohydrates: 60%.

 

Changes of PFC balance in Japan

Changes of PFC balance in Japan

The PFC balance of Japanese people was weighted toward carbohydrates in 1965, but was excellently balanced in 1980. However, the dietary life of Japanese people thereafter tended to have too much meat and fat, with a decreased amount of rice, and it has been coming closer to a Western type of diet in 2010.

 

PFC balance in the U.S. and France

 

U.S. (2005-2007), France (2005-2007)

Source: FAO Statistics Yearbook (Food Balance Sheet for the data of Japan); The ideal balance of protein: 10 - 20%, fat: 20 - 30% and carbohydrates: 50 - 70% has been made into an index with a range of 0.8 to 1.2.

 

 

On this page, the traditional dietary culture of Japan is expressed as WASHOKU, and dishes with such tradition are expressed as washoku.

Pictures and articles are cited from WASHOKU guidebook.