We distinguish 5 basic tastes by our tongue, sweet, bitter, salty, sour and umami or savory. These tastes give information to our brain about what kind of food we have just eaten. A Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda discovered our fifth taste “Umami” in 1907. Most of our taste buds on the tongue can detect Umami taste and umami has its own distinct receptors both on tongue and in some areas of duodenum.
It was not until 20th. Century that umami got its recognition as the 5th basic taste. Scientists agreed to list it alongside other basic tastes. Proteins are important part of our food and umami helps to recognize both proteins and amino acids in food.
MSG and Ajinomoto
In Japan MSG(monosodium glutamate ) is called Ajinomoto. Though Ajinomoto is a company but they were the first to find this MSG. It is used in cooking as a taste enhancer with an umami flavor. Stews and meaty soups have natural umami or MSG flavor. Ajinomoto is the purest umami flavor. Usually, it is derived from sugar cane cassava or corn.
Finding umami flavor in food
There are certain foods that contain strong umami flavor like aged cheese and soy sauce. Aging and fermentation in food process break down proteins and create free glutamate that has umami taste. While some of our foods carry umami flavor naturally. Following are well known umami foods.
- Sea food
- 4.Parmesan cheese
8. kimchi (fermented lettuce)
11. soy sauce
12 . granulated garlic
13. caramelized onions
Umami comes from 3 compounds that are naturally found in plants and meat: glutamate, inosinate, and guanylate. So, umami is both savory and meaty in feeling. We taste umami through taste receptors that typically respond to glutamates and nucleotides, which are commonly present in meat broths and fermented food.
Some distinct features of umami that set it apart from other tastes.
- Umami spreads all over the tongue
- Umami stays longer than other basic tastes
- Umami stimulates more saliva than other tastes.
- umami gives a wholesome and satiating feeling
How to attain umami taste in cooking food?
- Using ingredients rich in glutamate will enhance the flavors of any dish.
- Fill your pantry with food like soy sauce, ketchup, miso, ranch dressing, Worcestershire sauce etc.,
- All kinds of meats, sea food, and fish provide strong umami taste. These are good source of protein as well.
- if you want the purest form of umami just sprinkle monosodium glutamate on food.
- Some vegetables like tomatoes, seaweeds, and mushrooms provide glutamate that’s basically umami taste.
Monosodium glutamate and umami taste
MSG and umami use the same molecule of an amino acid to activate our taste receptors. Mono sodium glutamate, an alternative to sodium chloride
sodium chloride is one of the leading causes of heart diseases. To reduce sodium in food, umami seasoning can be an alternative. SGM enhances and intensifies the savory taste even without table salt. people who need low salt food can benefit from SGM or umami flavor.
You don’t need to turn to artificial ingredients to get intense and rich umami flavors. Umami comes naturally in many diverse foods. Initially umami was isolated from seaweed in crystal form. It is not difficult to find it in plants. You can get it from seaweed, tomatoes, dried mushrooms and caramelized onions avocado, marmite and yeast spreads. Even MSG is a natural ingredient derived from the fermented yeast. Fermented foods like soy sauce and miso are also great ways to add umami to food. A good chef does not need Ajinomoto (MSG) in cooking. Japanese food being unique and delicate charms people, therefore the term umami has become quite attractive. umami satisfies the taste cravings and makes a bland dish wholesome and interesting.