You’ll no doubt be more than familiar with the four core tastes -sweet, salty, sour and bitter. But as a multi award-winning food and drink agency we thought it was only right that we make sure you’re familiar with the fifth, Umami. This term directly translates to the “essence of deliciousness” in Japanese. “Oo-ma-mi” is typically mistaken for a salty taste but more commonly described as “complex” and “a lasting flavour” that deepens and intensifies the taste of a dish.
It has been over a century since umami was first discovered in Japan by Professor Kikunae Ikeda, but umami is starting to come into its own, attracting global attention, primarily from chefs and others with a strong interest in food. Professor Kikunae Ikeda noticed a certain “savoury” taste in foods such as dashi (a stock made from rehydrating dried shiitake mushrooms), cheese, and meat that were neither sweet, sour, salty or bitter. Having decided that dashi had the most pronounced savoury taste, he moved his focus onto kombu (the seaweed used to make dashi). After lots of investigating, Ikeda identified glutamate, an amino acid, as the origin of this new savoury taste sensation and called it “umami”.
Glutamate occurs naturally in the human body and in many delicious foods we eat every day. Some of the most known foods with umami are:
- aged cheeses – such as parmesan
- miso paste
- cured meats – such as ham
- Shitake mushrooms
- green tea
Since then, it has become a more commonly talked about taste but how do we recognise it? Umami is frequently described as a taste that “spreads across the tongue”. Different experiments state that the tongue’s areas of taste receptivity have shown that sweet and salty tastes are sensed more intensely on the tip of the tongue, while umami is sensed all across it.
Lucky for us, there’s an added bonus to the amazing taste of umami rich foods, as it turns out they are also great for you! For example, different types of seaweeds are incredibly low in calories and packed with antioxidants such as vitamin A, C and E that protect the body from cell damage. Soy based foods such as tofu, miso and tempeh are linked to a number of benefits, lowering blood cholesterol being one of them. As mentioned above, green tea is also a part of the umami family, as a result of its high levels of glutamate. The top health benefits of green tea include its high polyphenol levels that protect the body against disease. It boosts metabolism, helps blood sugar control and reduces the risk of heart disease.
So, the next time you’re having a flavoursome meal try and see if you can decipher which ingredients are part of the umami family!