Sushi is a cuisine that people either love or dislike. What makes sushi taste so good, exactly? Do you have a favorite flavor? This article will explain why sushi is so delicious and how dashi has changed the industry.
When I first tried sushi, I can’t recall exactly my age but I remember being young and realizing it was much better than I had expected. Much better.
After college, I only became a chef of sushi and understood why it tasted so great. All started with dashi.
Dashi: The Science of Dashi
Dashi is an important ingredient in Japanese cooking and enhances the flavor of sushi. It’s packed with vitamins. Miso soup is made by mixing the base with miso. Making dashi using bonito flake and konbu (kelp).
Konbu is glutamate rich and tastes delicious. Glutamate is the most abundant neurotransmitter in the brain that stimulates rapid excitatory activity. Glutamate may be essential for protein, memory and thought.
Bonito flake, a small tuna also known as skipjack (which can reach incredibly high speeds underwater), is a form of this fish. This fish is also called skipjack, which is a small tuna that can reach incredible speeds under water. This fish can travel at speeds of up to 40mph with a burst of energy.
The muscles are supplied with adenosine monphosphate (IMP), a molecule high in energy. ATP is converted by enzymes to a delicious amino acid known as inosine monophosphate (IMP), which our tongues enjoy just as much as glutamate.
You can turn bonito into paper-thin flakes by smoking the fish for 10-20 days and simmering it. The fish is then inoculated by mold. The fish are then locked in wooden boxes and fermented for two weeks. Mold, which contains enzymes that convert ATP into IMP, is essential for fermentation.
After two weeks the fillets will be sun-dried and the mold removed. They then introduce new mold and put them back in the box for another two weeks. This process is repeated 3 to 4 times until the bonito filets are as hard and dry as bananas.
Digestive enzymes have converted the ATP protein into IMP. They can now be shaved into those delicious flakes using a tool that resembles a carpenters plane.
How does dashi go with sushi?
Before soy sauce became commercially available, sushi chefs made their own soy sauce, using dashi. This sauce was called nikiri. (You can click here to find out how to make it). Nikiri, which is a much subtler sauce than soy, is used to brush on top of the nigiri.
You may remember Jiro’s and his chefs’ nikiri-style sauce from the Jiro Dreams of Sushi documentary.
In the US and other countries, Nikiri is not used as a sauce in many sushi restaurants. However, one of the key principles of dashi science is present in every sushi restaurant: the purposeful breakdown of ATP to IMP.
Why glutamate tastes so good.
Both glutamate and IMP are types of amino acids which elicit a great response from human taste receptors. It was thought that humans could only detect four types of taste: sweet, bitter, salty and sour.
The Japanese have known about the fifth flavor, umami, for centuries. Umami, which is translated as “savory” or “delicious”, was widely disputed until recently as the fifth taste.
Kikunae ikeda, who was a chemist, coined the term umami in 1909. He was able pinpoint what made fermented food taste good. It wasn’t till 2002 that scientists from around the world agreed that umami was the fifth taste – and that our taste receptors only detect glutamate.
The best fish is not always the freshest.
The freshest fish does not necessarily mean the best tasting fish.
In this article, we have already discussed that ATP stored in the muscles of the fish must be broken down into IMP by enzymes before we can fully appreciate its sushi taste. A fish that is caught, killed, and served to customers today will not taste as good as one that has been harvested a few weeks ago.
Some people say that a dead fish eaten immediately after it was killed would not have much flavor.
To preserve the flavor of their fish, traditional Japanese fishermen employed a particular method. This method, known as ike-jime, involves inserting a spike into the brain within a minute after the fish is caught.
Most Humane and Effective
It is thought that this is the most humane and effective way to kill a salmon, as well as the best way to preserve ATP in the muscles. The ATP in the muscles of the fish is used to help them escape as they flop around.
The fisherman stops the fish’s muscle movement by piercing its brain, enhancing sushi taste. This prevents lactic acid release due to stress, averting a sour flavor and slowing decomposition.
Flash freezing equipment is now available on most deep-sea ships. This allows the fish to be preserved and killed perfectly while in transit. Sometimes, it is as easy as using liquid nitrogen and dry-ice. By “stopping” the clock, you can effectively preserve fish.
After the fish is defrosted, enzymes in the fish’s muscles will start to convert the proteins into IMP.
Best To Eat the Fish
It is best to eat the fish two to four weeks after the fish has died (or when it has thawed out from deep-freezing). The enzymes have converted a large amount of ATP into IMP.
A fish caught the same day that you eat would be hard, bland and dry. Fish that has been caught recently (say, three days ago) will taste rich, savory (or umami), and slightly greasy. Fish that has been caught seven days ago will be slightly sour and slightly soggy. It will also have a pungent flavor. (These are my personal experiences at a sushi restaurant).
Today, flash-frozen seafood is often served for a few days after it has thawed to preserve sushi taste. (How else could a fish be transported across the globe and still served raw?) Even if sushi chefs are unaware of the enzymatic breakdown of ATP.
It’s wonderful that we were able to figure out what makes sushi so delicious and how to enhance that flavor when shipping the fish around the world.
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