BLOGJapanese food column2019.03.29

A key item for opening the future of Washoku

ByYoshihiro Murata

Originalities inspire oil substitutes. Finally, we found "Umami" that is unique to Japan.

In the previous features, I talked along the theme "Open the world through Washoku". I think it is very interesting to think of the future of Washoku (Japanese cuisine).
The world is really getting closer now as a result of rapid development of information and distribution networks. However, Washoku is still fundamentally different from cuisines of other countries.
While people all over the world consume carbohydrates over meals such as bread, naans, and beans, we, Japanese people, eat rice. While fats containing butter, cream, vegetable fats and oils, and sesame oil, play an important role in cuisines of other countries, only Japanese people consider umami as the most important element for our dishes.

Japan had been isolated from other countries over 300 years. Therefore, neither could we import oil from other countries nor find oil in the ground of Japan. As Japan was a Buddhist country, we couldn't consume animal fats such as lard and tallow. Of course, making butter from cow milk was out of the question.
As a result, we could use only canola and sesame oils. However, canola oil is very valuable because its production volume is limited. 2 tablespoons of canola oil can light a lantern overnight but this amount will be gone immediately when consuming it.
Therefore, only people in high classes could use oil for cooking. Who were they? They were feudal loads, court nobles, and owners of a merchandising business. Oil was very expensive at that time, which was the same even for people in the Imperial Palace.
As Kyoto is far from the sea, people in Kyoto ate a wide range of vegetable dishes. In order to satisfy customers, chefs in Kyoto strived to make delicious vegetable dishes without using oil. Eventually, they came up with idea to use dried ingredients from the sea including kelp carried by Matsumae boat from Hokkaido and bonito flakes from Makurazaki in Kagoshima and Tosa (presently Kochi). Broth made with these two dried ingredients was the origin of umami culture.

If we had plenty of oil, broth culture might not have been derived in Japan. Umami was made as a substitute for the rich and mild flavors of oil through trial and error.

Umami concept became known internationally after its receptor was found.

Umami is an essential concept for Washoku. I had been considering how to define Umami while I was discussing with chefs from other countries. However, they couldn't accept my definition without proof. When I explained them that Umami was derived from glutamic acid and inosinic acid, they said that this was just only a concept.
However, the receptor of Umami was found next to that of sweet in 2002. They thought "How could this happen?" Finally, Umami was widely acknowledged.
Umami doesn't contain oil itself. Oil has 9 calories per 1cc. In short, something that has calories makes us, creatures, feel delicious when consuming it, because we need to survive.
As both French jus and Chinese soup use oil or fats, they have calories. On the other hand, Japanese broth have zero calories.
For example, while a Kaiseki course meal has around 1,000 kcals, a French course meal can sometimes have about 2,500kcals. If you have cheese and dessert at the end, the total calories will become 3,000kcals. A hamburger has 800 or more kcals. So, if you drink cola over the hamburger, the total calories will be as much as that of a Kaiseki course meal. Don't you believe this? I'm always impressed by the calorie content of oil and fats.

If you want not only to make your dish more delicious but also to reduce its calories. Umami and broth can solve these contradictive wishes.

Most chefs all over the world want to make their dishes lighter and to reduce the calories while keeping them delicious. I believe that this trend never changes. Washoku definitely becomes internationalized through this trend, because Umami power can keep the deliciousness of the dish and reduce its calories.
Umami has flourished by broth culture and it is possible that Umami will be known in the world along with the growth of health conscious. I believe that Umami is absolutely a key word for opening the future of Washoku.
As I was born in the country with Umami and became one of the chefs in the world, I think Umami and broth become my strengths more and more. I wish young people who want to become a chef and mothers who teach their children a sense of taste to be proud that they were born in the county with Umami


■ Kikunoi (main restaurant)

459 Shimokawara-cho, Yasakatoriimae-sagaru,
Shimokawara-dori, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto

Yoshihiro Murata

Awarded with "Gendai no Meiko" ("Contemporary Master Craftsman") and "Kyoto-fu Sangyo Korosha" ("Kyoto Prefecture Industry Distinguished Service") in 2012, "Kyoto-fu Bunka Korosho" ("Kyoto Prefecture Culture Distinguished Service Award") in 2013, and with "Chiiki Bunka Korosha" ("Regional Person of Cultural Merit ") in 2014.

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