The Chemistry Behind the Tasty Flavours of Sushi

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Sushi is a deceptively simple dish. It’s just rice and vegetables, with seaweed and fresh fish. However, as people around the world can testify, it is incredibly delicious! Why is sushi so tasty? It all goes back to chemistry! You probably will not see sushi being used as an example in your Chemistry textbook; but here at Julian Chemistry, we believe in providing students with relatable real-life examples for our A level Chemistry tuition in Singapore. Check out some fun facts about the involvement of chemistry in the preparation of sushi!

The Study of Sushi

Do you think your A level chemistry tuition takes a lot of extra effort? Imagine going to school for up to seven years, simply to learn the art and science of sushi! Japanese sushi chefs and other sushi chefs throughout the world take great pride in their craft, and they have to learn the science that goes with it.

The Start of Sushi

Sushi started as a way to preserve fish as food. The fish would be packed with rice and allowed to ferment for a year. Fermentation occurs when beneficial bacteria feed off carbohydrates, like rice, producing lactic acid. Allowing these good bacteria to do their work keeps the harmful bacteria at bay. Much later, with the invention of refrigeration technologies, it became possible to serve sushi with completely raw fish rather than cured fish.

The Chemistry of Sushi Rice

In the early days, people ate the preserved fish but not the sour, fermented rice. Today, however, that sourness is a coveted part of the experience. Sushi rice is often flavoured with vinegar and sugar to get that effect. Perfect sushi rice contains granules of a starch called amylopectin, as well as other starches. Breaking open the grains of sushi rice lets the starch out, so sushi chefs have to be very careful to keep the grains intact in order to have just the right amount of stickiness. Two years of a sushi chef’s training focuses on how to create the perfect sushi rice.

The Fifth Taste

The Japanese maintain that there is a fifth taste besides salty, sweet, sour, and bitter. They call it “umami,” and it’s what makes certain savoury dishes so delectable. A Japanese chemist by the name of Kikunae Ikeda discovered that the source of the “umami” quality in some foods is the compound glutamate, which appears as an amino acid called glutamic acid. Glutamate or glutamic acid is partially responsible for that savoury delicious taste we love about cheese and meat.

If you add a sodium ion to glutamate, you get monosodium glutamate, or MSG. Although some people perceive MSG as harmful to health, there’s no evidence of it, at least when it presents naturally in food.

After all, the fish used in sushi also contains glutamate, which is partially responsible for the incredible tastiness. Other key players in the taste game are the omega-3 fatty acids packed into fish flesh; and these fatty acids are incredibly good for your health.

Seaweed and Sushi

You probably know that sushi wrappers are made of a type of seaweed called “nori.” Mannitol, iodine, and bromophenol work together within the seaweed to create its unique combination of sweetness and ocean tang. Seaweed also contains some of the same beneficial omega-3 fatty acids that you would find in fresh fish.

More to Explore

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with compounds and formulas and you need a chemistry tutor in Singapore, explore Julian chemistry tuition. At Julian Chemistry, we know that real chemistry isn’t just a bunch of facts and numbers on a page. It’s a living, breathing science that is all around you— in the sky, in the sea, and even in the sushi on your plate.