Flavor of Umami
Umami, known as the fifth taste, has a deep flavor that is meaty and savory and delivers a feeling of fullness in your mouth.

Along with basic tastes such as sweet, salty, bitter, and sour, your tongue has special receptors to identify another taste known as umami.

Umami is identified as the fifth taste that has a deep flavor, which is meaty and savory and gives you the feeling of fullness in your mouth. A perfect example of umami would be having cheese along with ripe tomatoes.

What is umami?

Hundred years ago, a Japanese scientist Dr. Kikunae Ikeda identified that certain foods tasted better and named that taste umami, which directly translates to “essence of deliciousness.” He later found that the taste is due to the presence of a naturally occurring amino acid glutamate.

  • Glutamate is present in most food products such as seaweed, meat, fish, cheese, mushrooms, and many others.
  • Amino acids are building blocks of proteins, and glutamate is found in the human body.
  • Umami contains chemicals other than glutamate—inosinate, and guanylate.

Recent studies reported the presence of umami receptors on the tongue and in some parts of the mouth and gut. These taste receptors are inherited throughout the population globally. 

As you eat foods with umami, your taste buds get stimulated and send signals to the brain through the vagus nerve. As the brain receives the signals, it promotes digestion. Therefore, umami is considered an important taste that helps with the stimulation of digestion.

Characteristics of umami include:

  • The taste of umami spreads throughout the tongue.
  • It gives you a long-lasting delicious flavor.
  • It makes your mouth feel fuller.
  • It provides balance to all basic tastes.
  • It makes your mouth watery because the production of saliva increases and helps release digestive juices for better digestion.

Are umami and MSG same?

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a synthetic product that enhances and gives you the taste of umami. Because both umami and MSG contain glutamate, they were thought to be the same. Food products with MSG and umami were noted to taste similar and trigger similar brain reactions.

Umami is naturally present in food products, but MSG is added in additionly to foods to enhance the taste.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recognizes MSG as a safe food additive but warns about its excess use.

  • MSG may cause adverse health issues such as headache, nausea, weakness, and discomfort to the body.
  • Due to these negative ideas, people tend to avoid foods with MSG. However, studies report that taking some MSG is not bad for you; in fact, it has some benefits.
  • MSG provides a better sense of taste and helps with stimulating digestion in the elderly because you tend to lose taste buds as you age.

How to incorporate umami in cooking

Umami is a staple flavor of Chinese, Japanese, Italian, and Thai cooking, which means it is seen among both Western and Eastern cooking.

Foods that contain a strong umami flavor include:

  • Meat
  • Seafood
  • Ripe red tomatoes
  • Yeast extracts
  • Soy sauce and other soy foods
  • Shiitake mushrooms
  • Green tea
  • Seaweed
  • Aged cheese
  • Kimchi

Adding these foods to cooking improves the flavor and satisfies your craving for flavorful food.

  • Mushrooms: You can add mushrooms to most recipes such as soups, curries, and even salads. Cooking mushrooms with other vegetables brings out the taste of glutamate and enhances the overall flavor.
  • Miso paste: Miso is fermented soy paste. This can be added in a very small amount to soups to give you the strong savory taste of glutamate.
  • Fried vegetables: Characteristics of glutamate are enhanced when vegetables are roasted in oil, and when these vegetables are added to dishes, the overall taste of the dishes improves.

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Medically Reviewed on 1/20/2022
References
Image Source: iStock Images

Umami: The Fifth Taste: https://glutamate.org/basic/umami-fifth-taste/

MSG and Umami: https://neuroscience.stanford.edu/news/two-sides-same-coin-msg-and-umami

Umami: The Fifth Taste: https://www.brainfacts.org/thinking-sensing-and-behaving/taste/2019/umami-the-fifth-taste-012319