The enigma that is Umami is baffling. Some say it is the long-lost 'fifth taste', some say it is merely a dash of fish sauce in your recipe. Either way, it's fascinating.
Food critics tell me that the taste emanates from a Japanese, Thai, Malaysian, Indonesian, Brazilian or Vietnamese origin- not particularly specific. However, others say it is more part of 'science' of how we eat, taste and savour our food. It is far more experiential than it is specific. Carefully balancing (and mainly reducing) salt, vinegar and other 'traditional' flavour enhancers allows the Umami taste to reign and be identified by the consumer. It's distinction is very different from the other four tastes of sweet, sour, bitter and salty. You could liken it to being meaty or rich.
Today the Umami craze is growing with chefs competing to extract the trendiness of Umami flavours and pop their discoveries on their menus for big bucks. However, the research and science behind it has been ongoing since the 1970s with many academics studying its art in both cuisine and biology. Heston Blumenthal, one of the UK's most progressive chefs, uses the techniques to make his guests' experience far more sensual and often, surprising at his restaurant The Fat Duck. He's also incorporated the taste into British Airway's plane food to assist in savouring meals at high altitude.
A great example of Umami-savvy food is Japanese, so try a local outlet and without doubt the topic of Umami will be readily and eagerly received. Or perhaps indulge in a more mainstream approach. High street outlets are also jumping on the bandwagon with Umami burgers, kimchi (pickled veg side dishes), sushi and miso-rich chicken dishes.
And FYI, Umami means 'delicious' or 'yummy' in Japanese- definitely a reason to give it a whirl.