There are five flavors in the taste palette – sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami. Characterized by flavors found in savory food, umami, roughly translated from Japanese as tasty or yummy, is the flavor profile found in cheese, meat, tomatoes, and most dominantly in konbu. Konbu is a kelp that is used as a flavor base in Japanese cooking and is one of the main ingredients in making dashi.
The importance of konbu in Japanese cooking cannot be overstated – besides being the base of dashi (the base broth of most Japanese recipes), it’s heavy in nutrients including everything from potassium and calcium to sodium and iodine. Konbu is grown off the cold water coasts of Northern Japan, especially Hokkaido. It is cultivated and harvested at the end of the summer and dried and cut to be sold. Rausu konbu, used for making dashi, and rishiri konbu, for general cooking, are the two most common types of the seaweed kelp.
Konbu is extremely rich in monosodium glutamate, which is an amino acid responsible for its savory flavor. It’s a delicious addition to foods like agemono when shaved and fried and adds depth when soaked in water or vinegar to sauces and soups. When foods are slowly cooked, they allow for the amino acids to release, which is why konbu adds so much flavor to dashi broth.