If we ask you what are the different food flavors, the ones that will definitely come to your mind are probably salty, sour, bitter and sweet. But pay attention because there is a new kid in town: Umami flavor, one step further for chefs and those who love to eat. Do you want to know a bit more about it?
What is umami?
Recently recognised and known as the fifth flavor, umami is the least known flavor of all but, paradoxically, it is also one of the most frequent ones in your daily diet dishes. The name comes from Japanese and means “pleasant”, “yummy” or “delicious taste”.
We are talking about a unique combination of flavors that can’t be identified with one in particular and has three very special characteristics:
- It doesn’t have the ability to satiate.
- It increases the secretion of saliva.
- It stimulates hunger.
Umami is close to glutamic acid, an amino acid presents in the proteins of many foods, which they release during cooking or fermentation. When our taste buds come into contact with this amino acid, we detect umami.
The new taste is not only pleasant on the palate, it also helps to enhance the flavor of other foods. That’s why food rich in umami is used in many recipes.
The perception of the fifth flavor
We can all recognize the taste of umami, although it’s tough to define it because of the lack of specific vocabulary in our language to explain it: It is still something very new for all of us.
One of the most important characteristics of umami is we are talking about a flavor of great intensity, which remains in the mouth for a long time. Therefore, you can taste it even after you’ve already eaten the food.
Also, like the other classic flavors, umami is perceived in a specific part of the tongue. Different studies have shown that these specific taste receptors are found in the central part of the tongue while, for example, the sweetness is felt at the tip of it.
Not every food has this flavor naturally. In these cases, the taste can be intensified by adding monosodium glutamate, often used as a flavor enhancer in industrial foods, such as instant soups. This also improves their palatability and we are more eager to eat them.
The list of foods with umami flavor includes Asian products such as shitake mushrooms or kombu seaweed, but also others that are very common in most of the kitchens worldwide. You probably use a few of them in your daily recipes at home. Here are some vegetables, fermented and cured foods rich in proteins and with umami:
- All cheeses of medium or long fermentation, especially Parmesan.
- Cured Ham.
- Meat, especially ones that are aged for longer.
- White and green asparagus.
- Dried bonito.
- Miso soup.
Umami in the kitchen
Do you know the best thing about umami discovery? The fact that you can use the fifth flavor to improve your dishes and make them even tastier and more appetizing.
The harmonious combination of different foods that contain umami will help you to create a high-level food experience without facing sophisticated or difficult recipes.
Gastronomy experts have already proved the advantages of it and they are aware of the importance of incorporating this flavor to most of the dishes. A few drops of soy sauce may be that special touch that intensifies the taste of any course. You just have to remember a piece of advice: Foods rich in umami have a strong palate, so better to combine them with others that also contain this taste to achieve the right synergy of flavors.
Don’t mix foods rich in umami with others without it, such as lettuce, cereals or milk, and you will avoid unpleasant experiences on the palate.
A health benefit
Worth to keep in mind also that using foods rich in umami flavor can be good for your health. Umami’s intensity helps to reduce the amount of salt we use to prepare any dish up to 20%. So yes, it works fine as a sort of salt replacement.
Have you already discovered umami? And all its beneficial effects for gastronomy and health? Enjoy the experience of tasting this new taste in your family recipes, a new different way to cook with different and surprising results. Any dish can become an explosion of flavor!