Umami Barbecue – What is it?

We all know what barbecue is but what is Umami?

Umami is a Japanese word that means “yummy” or “delicious” and it’s the name that’s been given to what is called the fifth taste. The other four tastes are sweet, sour, bitter, and salty.

In 1908 a Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda determined the source that stimulates this 5th taste.

Mr. Kikunae Ikeda

Ikeda began trying to replicate the flavor of a traditional soup he made from boiled kombu (seaweed) and dried tuna. He mixed together salty, sweet, bitter and sour, but it was something altogether different. In his lab, he finally managed to isolate the substance that gave the broth its distinctive taste: glutamate, the most plentiful of the 20 amino acids that make up proteins.

Ikeda named the taste of glutamate Umami

Other scientists soon got involved and found that other amino acids compound this deliciousness, These are nucleotides, the molecular building blocks of DNA, found in a wide range of foods, including shellfish, pork and, mushrooms. They impart some umami on their own, but more importantly, they magnify the umami of foods rich in glutamates. Foods like chicken, tomatoes, aged cheeses, fresh corn, and almonds.

When nucleotide-rich foods are added to foods rich in glutamates, the result is even more intense flavor.

So how does this affect barbecue? Big Time. First meats are full of Umami and then when you cook them you get the benefit of the Maillard Reaction and Caramelization that improves the taste even more. Then you use tomato-based sauces. Tomatoes are full of Umami.

So if barbecue is already full of umami then what is the big deal?

The big deal is you can always make it better and a better barbecue is what your barbecue enthusiast is always pursuing.

Let look at a standard barbecue meal like pulled pork. First, you season it with salt, pepper and garlic. Garlic is full of Umami.


Next, you cook the pork shoulder until the internal temperature of 200F plus. This allows the outside of the pork shoulder to reach temperatures of 280F plus allowing the Maillard Reaction to kick in. Now you know why the end pieces of a roast always have a more intense flavor.

Now you shred the pork and mix a tomato-based BBQ sauce into the meat and then serve. Tomatoes, as we mentioned before, are full of Umami.

So how do we improve this barbecue classic? How about getting rid of the bbq sauce and add this instead. diced tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, worcestershire sauce, and even some fish sauce. Yes, fish sauce.

I did this recipe and it was the best pulled-pork I have ever had. No one ingredient stood out but the flavor was so intense without being too sweet or spicy. It just tastes great.

Keep coming back to this site for we will be doing a full series of Umami Barbecue recipes and videos.