The Umami of Life

Umami is a popular term in food circles today. Translated from Japanese, umami means a “pleasant, savory taste”. Research has shown the we humans have specific receptors in our taste buds for this savory flavor, along with those for sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. Put simply, umami is an enriching experience that enhances not only food, but life.

When we look at the five key principles of wellness upon which our lifetime bodies are built, umami in food is clearly pictured. Foods that are smoked, roasted, fermented, intricately flavored, or unique in such a way that they give the taste buds, and the diner, pause, are rich in umami.  This satisfying, tasty, and nourishing experience goes far beyond just consuming calories or micronutrients. It becomes an enjoyment, or even a celebration of the dining experience. Certainly many of us will have this experience on Thanksgiving Day.

Umami can easily be interpreted in our lifestyle as well. To use popular phrases, being mindful, and living in the moment, is essentially umami. By appreciating our opportunities, our relationships, and our NOW, we are savoring the life experience. Practicing umami in our daily life really means avoiding dwelling in the past or fretting about the future. It is giving and being all we can, and steeping ourselves in the richness of life’s tea.

Our activity, which includes our exercise, also begs for umami. Finding the sheer pleasure of movement, and its impact on our health and fitness, can be a true umami event. As opposed to dreading exercise, going through the motions, and generally not making it a positive experience, we should find movement that is amenable to us and turn it into a celebration. Let’s give ourselves the gifts of fitness and health and always maintain the attitude of gratitude.

The umami of sleep is indeed an interesting phenomenon. By practicing good sleep hygiene, in which we utilize the art of getting quality sleep, we are making approximately ⅓ of our lives umami.  Getting adequate amounts of activity, morning sunshine, and evening relaxation contributes to our sleep.  So does minimizing evening blue light exposure, digital programming, and loud noise.  And sleeping in a cool, absolutely darkened room will make our sleep deeper and more restorative. Sleep can become something we look forward to doing and awaken each day from in a totally rejuvenated, energetic, umami way.

Ergonomics is basically umami applied to the workstation.  By making sure we have our work setup and behaviors ideal with respect to health factors, we make work an umami experience. Enjoying our work makes us better at it, and it gives to us as much as we give to it and the world.  

So you can see, even though umami is a catchy term, it really supports what we are all doing with our lifetime bodies.  This post was actually a request from a good friend who asked me to interpret those concepts a bit, and also to share a recipe as an example of how I live an umami life. As a locavore, I’m into sustainable foods as well as food’s journey from field to table, to body, to spirit. Here is a recipe from a recent dish we enjoyed on a cool fall evening.

Curried Elk and Cauliflower Stew

Having just returned from both a successful hunt, and a particularly good visit to the local market, this dish was born.  Because it is so rich in umami, it is a one-dish meal.


3-4 beef or elk marrow bones

Dash olive oil

Pinch of salt

First, roast the bones with a little olive oil and salt for 75 minutes at 375 degrees on a baking sheet.

Then, transfer the bones, with 5 quarts of water to a large stock pot, and the following ingredients.

1 tsp black peppercorns

1 TSP sea or Himalayan pink salt

3 bay leaves

3 minced garlic cloves

1 cup chopped onions

1 cup chopped carrots

1 cup chopped celery

Bring to a low simmer, covered, and leave on for 12-16 hours.  Using tongs, remove the bones from the liquid, making sure the marrow has cooked out. Keep the simmer going, and add ½ head of cauliflower, coarsely chopped.  Once the cauliflower has softened (about 10-15 minutes), use a hand blender to partially puree the stew, but leave some vegetable pieces intact. To this add 1 BPA-free can of full fat coconut milk.

In a large skillet, brown 1.5 pounds of cubed elk or beef stew meat lightly in the following:

1 TSP coconut oil

1 TSP ghee

2 TSP coarse chopped fresh ginger

2 TSP yellow curry powder

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp crushed habanero, or other chile per your preference

Pinch saffron

1 tsp sea or Himalayan pink salt

Once the meat is browned, add to the stew pot, and simmer on low for 60-90 minutes.

Serve piping hot with fresh topped cilantro on top, and the optional dollop of sour cream or yogurt if you prefer.

As we enter this holiday season, I hope your meals, and your life, are filled with umami!


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