Umami – The Mystery Taste Sensation

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Have you ever had a hard time describing something you tasted? What you have been unable to describe is Umami. Our taste buds are equipped to experience four basic flavors: sweet, salty, sour and bitter.

After many years of eating (there was a lot of eating) and research by scientists and chefs, who have now added Umami, it is the mythical fifth taste of glutamates and nucleotides, as the mysterious fifth taste. Just like your Sixth sense but for your taste buds.

Have you ever wondered where did this mysterious flavor come from? It didn’t come from anywhere, it’s always been here, and we’ve always tasted it, without even noticing it.

It was in the late 19th century that someone from the Land of the Rising Sun gave it a try to describe what Umami really was. That person was Japanese chemist and food enthusiast Kikunae Ikeda.

Foods that age, like cheese, or when meat begins to cook under the heat of an open flame, the proteins inside it undergo a change at a molecular level. This process breaks the proteins completely into various units, one of which is a molecule called L-glutamate, the singular molecule responsible for Umami. We owe one to Ikeda for recognizing and discovering something like this.

Literal translation of this Japanese term means “pleasant, savory taste” or “yummy,” but that barely gives us anything to go on. Let’s put it in a layman’s term so that we all can understand. Think greasy or fatty meats like dry aged steak. Think seafood or aged cheese, they all carry the signature of Umami and the list goes on and on. Foods which include less Umami are things like tomatoes, beets, corn and soybeans.

So now that you guys know a little about what the fifth mysterious taste is like you can LET YOUR TONGUE’S IMAGINATION GO WILD…

Basic taste and their common components

Distinguishing 5 basic tastes is an essential survival skill that we humans are born with, because it allows us to avoid risky foods and obtain nutrients safely to live a healthy life.

Our tongue enables us to avoid danger by detecting the sour taste of organic acids in unripe fruit or rotting food, or the bitterness of alkaloids. On the contrary, when our tongues identify the sweetness or the saltiness of minerals necessary to maintain a healthy body, we actively consume them.

Where to find Umami?

The main ingredients of Umami are glutamate, inosinate and guanylate.

Glutamate can be found in a range of foods including meat, fish and vegetables. Inosinate is found in fairly big quantities in meat based foods such as meat and fish, while large volume of Guanylate can be found in dried mushroom products such as dried shiitake mushrooms.

Through the process of ripening and fermentation the component of Umami increases. Plenty of traditional foods from around the globe, such as soy sauce and other fermented condiments made from grain, fish sauces and cheeses are excellent sources of Umami.

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