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  • Writer's pictureJason Khoh

Unfolding the origami around umami

If you’ve done translations about food and wine pairings, you’ll know how difficult it can be to suitable equivalents to match the tone of the flowery expressions describing the colours, flavours, textures, and aromas present.

Then, when it comes to Japanese food, there will inevitably also be commentary about umami, the fifth savoury taste sensation first identified by Japanese chemist, Ikeda Kikunae, back in 1907.

While it’s obviously not difficult to translate the word itself (duh!), these pairings often talk about「相乗効果」(soujou kouka) when the umami from the wine and food come together.

If we look up this phrase in a dictionary, we get ‘synergistic effect’. One can use the phrase ‘umami synergy’ (as I found in a scientific journal article like this one) but to me, it doesn’t sound particularly appealing nor does it really explain what’s going on.

I mean, it’s not like discussions around sweetness or saltiness synergy are commonplace, so one could be forgiven for not knowing what umami synergy actually means, don’t you think?

So, whenever this phrase comes up, I try to make my translation as descriptive and delectably sounding as possible. Below are a few examples:


  • The umami from the aging process pairs well with the delicate umami of this dish. You can really enjoy the heightened umami taste sensation with this pairing


  • The maturity of the wine helps to make this a great match in terms of how it augments the sauce’s rich umami


  • The umami in a more mature wine will result in an even more expansive umami-laden taste experience

I prefer to use words like ‘heightened,’ ‘expansive,’ and ‘richer’ to describe how the pairing changes the overall umami taste. This is also achieved if we decide to use the verb ‘augment’ or 'amplify' as well.

How do you like to describe「相乗効果」when it comes to culinary pairings?


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