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The Secret to Creating the 5th Flavor: Umami

When he was just twenty-six, Chef Miki Hashimoto arrived at LAX with just a small amount of cash and a big dream of becoming a sushi chef and driving a 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham up and down the West Coast—or so the story goes. Now, decades later, he is still wowing American palates at Tokio, his new restaurant in Denver’s hip RiNo neighborhood.

His secret to success? The elusive “5th taste,” umami, he explains. Umami is distinct from the other four tastes (sweet, salty, acidic and bitter), and its secret was officially “discovered” in 1908. It results when you combine natural food compounds in traditional Asian and non-Asian ingredients alike. Whether you’re cooking up from-scratch ramen (a specialty at Tokio) or just looking for a bit more complexity in your favorite recipes, follow Chef Miki’s method to get that famed umami taste in your home cooking.


You need at least two foods—one containing glutamic acid, and the other containing inosinic acid or guanylic acid—to make umami. Although they sound like strange chemicals, they are actually quite common in many foods, such as meat, poultry, dairy, fish, cheese, mushrooms and fermented foods like soy sauce. By including two or more ingredients containing these acids in a dish, you’ll get “not just twice the flavor, but seven times the flavor,” says Chef Miki. That’s because, like table salt, these acids heighten other flavors in the dish, even reducing the amount of salt you need. Here’s how.

1.   Choose 1 ingredient from the glutamic acid list, below.
2.   Choose 1 or more ingredients from the inosinic acid and/or guanylic acid categories.
3.   While you cook, taste for flavor. You will recognize umami when flavors “pop” on your palate. Serve and enjoy.  Share the pleasure of your cooking secret with family or guests—or not!

Glutamic Acid Foods
Kelp (konbu)
Soy sauce
Green Tea
Napa cabbage
Parmesan cheese

Inosinic Acid Foods
Dried bonito flakes
Dried sardines
Chicken bone stock
Fish (particularly mackerel)
Note: Sorry, no veggie options for this one

Guanylic Acid Foods
Mushrooms (especially dried shiitake)

Check out the recipe for Chef Miki’s umami-fueled authentic miso soup