Ohh, the Umami-ty…

_Fermented Bean Curd (still in my cupboard!)

*Update* Wow, a “new” umami making the trend du jour — Black Garlic! — the new black.

Umami is the fifth flavor, as discovered and named a hundred years ago by Japanese chemist, Kikunae Ikeda, and by French chef, Auguste Escoffier, to a lesser degree. (I like the analogy to art in that article). It is described as the “savory” flavor. It is in meats, sea foods, dairy, and vegetables. It is, apparently, the often dreaded “glutamate”; however, it is a naturally occurring substance as in vegetables, in perfect amounts as it is with whole foods. When it breaks down, becomes l-glutamate, ie, umami. It’s in wines as well, the tannins (some teas fall into this, too, perhaps). Tempeh, is also an example of umami flavor — it’s beans and grains fermented. The Chinese cultivate that flavor by intensifying foods: soy sauces; fermented tofu (used to love this and utilized it often; above pic); and black beans are examples.

I hadn’t heard of it until a couple years ago; though, unknowingly, had been intensifying my foods to satisfy this as a vegan. I imagine it was to compensate for the animal foods I gave up in my diet when I went vegan — I don’t really know, though, because I didn’t eat a lot of animal-based umami pre-Vegan. Of course, I was nowhere near an optimal diet by just going vegan; but going vegan was and is so incredibly easy, especially, in my opinion, if one is basing the decision on ethics.

I cultivated this flavor in my bread creating for example. Since fermenting animal flesh, such as fish and vegetables, such as beans, intensifies umami, the fermenting of grains produces the same thing. I imagine vinegars satisfy this as well (notice how the most prized are those aged and fermented for years and years). I discovered how to make the best bread I’ve ever tasted by accident, and became a very good bread maker; I realized later, it was the umami which I produced through my own methods of making bread that made it so delicious. I was already addicted to bread — which was actually the cover for a sugar addiction — so I don’t believe I was addicted to umami flavors. Meat and dairy were not difficult at all to give up; I didn’t eat much of either pre-vegan or pre- ETL anyway. Lucky me — cheese is highly addictive and seems to give many people difficulty.

Interestingly, I have come to realize it is a flavor that is provided, naturally, by clean eating, just like the other four. I believe it is this flavor that EXPLODES for me when I eat simply, like just a delicious tomato and why I adore mushrooms, and I eat large amounts of these foods. Far from bland, eating natural, unadulterated foods become more flavorful than salty, sugar-ladened foods, when allowed to; this means, getting off the processed junk, and allowing your body to clean, heal and provide the incredible plethora of flavors within  them, packaged naturally by Nature. You have to lay off the junk to taste these flavors, unadulterated. Keeping them in the diet (she *forever* laments — and no one listens, of course 😦  😉  lol 😀 ) only keeps that desire, that craving alive. You double, triple the time it takes to get over it IF you ever do get rid of cravings — most likely, you won’t.

According to umami experts, we seek this flavor as well as the other four — sweet, sour, salty, bitter — in varying amounts, naturally. With the over-processing of foods and the monstrous amounts of meat and dairy consumption of today, people  have come to crave these flavors and seek them out at dangerous levels. They become addictions and “cravings” rather than necessities. The amounts one consumes becomes so out of balance. I think, this is one reason some people have varying addiction issues. Some people are addicted to dairy, or salt for example; while others are sweet addicts (sugars/starches); so why wouldn’t someone be addicted to umami? Just as I thought I was addicted to caffeine (coffee = fermented = umami) because of the loads I consumed, it was actually the sugar I put in it; so may it be that those who believe they are addicted to meat are just people who crave that umami most intensely.

I think many people who feel they could never go vegetarian or vegan or consider themselves meateaters or those oh-so-special lot of folks who “need” meat are those who have an addiction to this flavor as others do to sugar, for example. You can get off of meat, as you can get off of sugar: GET OFF IT. That’s the only way. Imagine that.

Eating To Live — the cleanest and best diet for health and longevity — balances this out, in my opinion. It is neither too high or too low on any of the flavors. Although salt is not a healthful substance, we get PLENTY of it provided by nature in perfect amounts. I can taste a salty salt flavor in some foods, such as some tomatoes; definitely in mushrooms; and, interestingly, some greens and even lettuces! More than enough. Pre-clean eating, though, I would never have believed I could live without SOME salt, especially, the soy sauces and misos I adored. But now, these are disgustingly salty in amounts I previously would  have thought small amounts. It’s amazing how the need for salt is satisfied through whole foods.

I recall, having been an avid baker and cook, that when someone didn’t want salt on something I made, it irritated me. I used to think they were not experiencing the best flavor nor the intended flavor without it. How awful! I used to force it on people. Terrible. I now know these people just didn’t need as much as I (thought) did.

I’ve also come to think that it is this fifth flavor which can be one cause for some to struggle to eat optimally. The sudden withdrawal from this savory flavor when eating a nutritious way, causes some to go back to standard fare to satisfy it, whether it’s meat, over-processed, sugary foods, or that ubiquitous addiction, cheese. We often go for the wrong thing to satisfy another: For example, going to sugar when what we need is complex carbohydrate, whole foods, instead or even the need for whole-food fat, as in my case; when we eat instead of dealing with emotions — it’s all the same misdirection. whenever the diet is suddenly changed — and ETL IS a drastic change for many people — there are “withdrawal” symptoms which vary by person and intensity! If you consume lots of salt, then go immediately to no salt, you’re gonna feel it!

Not surprisingly, leafy greens contain this fifth flavor. Just another reason to GO HEAVY ON THE LEAFY GREENS as I always cry. 😉 Greens are, if there is one, the panacea or superfood. It crushes cravings for sugar and eliminates most other cravings as well, IF you take in enough (read: a lot); consistently; and stay away from the foods which you are addicted, you will stop cravings: Stop dabbling in SAD foods and so-called, “treating” oneself “once a week” to them. Rarely, if at all, does this work. Over the years, I’ve found that people who say ETL “didn’t work” for them, or that they “still have/had cravings” following Dr. Fuhrman’s diet were not really, truly following it. Some people admitted later; honestly didn’t/don’t realize they’re not following correctly; are not paying attention to their needs; didn’t do it for any realistic length of time; or some simply just don’t want to do it for whatever reason and blame the diet. Others, don’t like to admit that their “dabbling occasionally” is because of cravings. There’s nothing like being 100% FREE OF CRAVINGS and ADDICTION. :D. It’s miraculous, really. No need to dabble if you’re free 😉 Yes, I’m hardcore ETL, I make no apologies 😀 I *love* ETL!! lol_roll

I have always been and always will be an advocate for following Dr. Fuhrman’s Eat To Live way of eating 100% — again, no apologies 😉 ; which, is a base from which ANYONE can tailor to their needs. Dr. Fuhrman gives you the basics and whatever particular health issues you have, you can alter it and still be eating optimally for you. Ah, the beauty of Eating to live 🙂 . This does not mean half-ass committments — to me that’s an oxymoron anyway: A committment is a committment: either do it or don’t; either you are doing it, or you’re not. Sorry, that’s the truth.

I’m enjoying my umami flavors as well as the other four via ETL. I imagine the incredible flavor I’m getting from my cultured vegetables (high in umami!) is contributing to the potpourri of flavors (seriously, it’s like the 1960’s of foods 😀 ) already in Eat to Live, and the ever-increasing enjoyment of food. Funny how that works: It’s like when you let go of something you hold on so tightly to…like when they say when you “stop looking,” it comes to you? sort of like that. When you stop seeking out these fake-food “tastes” you will eventually attract REAL tastes and flavors, even BIGGER and BETTER! Sounds crazy to those who don’t give it chance; but if you have, you know exactly what I mean 🙂 And even more crazy-ish, is that no matter how delicious anything I eat is, I’m never “craving” any one food nor do I have any food addictions. I can just enjoy with incredible intensity the way the food is meant to taste. Wow. 😀 Why doesn’t everyone eat to live?!


Speaking of fabulously-delish (but not addicting 😉 )…

The papaya kimchi I made is incredible! OMGosh, Om’gosh, OH_MY_GOSH! I can’t even describe it! It’s amazing. I had no rotting of the top leaves again; I imagine this is because of the cleanliness I employ. I haven’t opened the cranberry-persimmon jar; it’s still fermenting; I’m going to let it go another week or so.

I’ve been eating the kimchis on the side as well, like a chutney or salsa, for example. Amazing, just amazingly good. The papaya flavor is not strong, but it’s definitely contributing. I’m not a papaya fan, actually, so this surprised me a little. Some nutritional yeast on the cultured foods also makes it much more “cheesy,” which makes sense, since cheese is fermented (and so is nutritional yeast!)

Afterall, my cultured veggies also satisfy my umami 😀

Another umami  food, is seaweed:. Since I eat Nori daily for my iodine requirements (other sea vegetables as well,) I make little nori rolls with it. It’s not unusual, actually, since Nori Rolls usually contain pickled ginger. I use the nori sheets like a tortilla sometimes to scoop my food :). Very delicious and a great texture: Nori can be chewy or crunchy, which makes it wonderful for variety. It’s also very mild and not so “sea” tasting as some of the other sea veggies.

Mushrooms — I eat loads of mushrooms; these are also a umami food: Not surprising that they are very meat-like.

Nutritional yeast? Yep, a fermented food, it satiates umami (and my mommy too) 😉 No surprise it is “cheesy” and used as a substitute for same: cheese is fermented.

An occasional dabble into fermemted beverages is also a way for a little nip of umami — rejuvelac; kombucha; my beloved (vegan) coconut kefir — who needs wine? 😉 Tea (genuine — Camellia sinensis) is also umami.

Okay, must stop now. As usual, I’ve rambled. Hope it’s at least somewhat sensical. Gimme a break, okay, I’m feeling a bit loopy lately 😉


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1 Comment

  1. September 28, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    […] to store! some may birth savory, some medium-sweet, others sweet — come what may! But the umami in them all is sure to […]

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