Entry in progress—B.P.
Taste (or, more formally, gustation) is a form of direct chemoreception and is one of the traditional five senses. It refers to the ability to detect the flavor of substances such as food, certain minerals, and poisons. In humans and many other vertebrate animals the sense of taste partners with the less direct sense of smell, in the brain’s perception of flavor. In the West, experts traditionally identified four taste sensations: sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. Eastern experts traditionally identified a fifth, called umami (savory). More recently, psychophysicists and neuroscientists have suggested other taste categories (umami and fatty acid taste most prominently, as well as the sensation of metallic and water tastes, although the latter is commonly disregarded due to the phenomenon of taste adaptation.) Taste is a sensory function of the central nervous system. The receptor cells for taste in humans are found on the surface of the tongue, along the soft palate, and in the epithelium of the pharynx and epiglottis.
Umami (旨味, うまみ?) is the name for the taste sensation produced by compounds such as glutamate, and are commonly found in fermented and aged foods. In English, it is also described as “meatiness”, “relish”, or “savoriness”. The Japanese word comes from umai (旨い?) for yummy, keen, or nice. Umami is now the term commonly used by taste scientists. The same taste is referred to as xiānwèi (鮮味 or 鲜味) in Chinese cooking. Umami is considered a fundamental taste in Chinese and Japanese cooking, but is not discussed as much in Western cuisine.
Humans have taste receptors specifically for the detection of the amino acids, e.g., glutamic acid. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and are found in meats, cheese, fish, and other protein-heavy foods. Examples of food containing glutamate (and thus strong in umami) are beef, lamb, parmesan, and roquefort cheese as well as soy sauce and fish sauce. The glutamate taste sensation is most intense in combination with sodium ions, as found in table salt. Sauces with umami and salty tastes are very popular for cooking, such as worcestershire sauce for Western cuisines and soy sauce and fish sauce for Asian cuisines.
The additive monosodium glutamate (MSG), which was developed as a food additive in 1907 by Kikunae Ikeda, produces a strong umami. Umami is also provided by the nucleotides 5’-inosine monophosphate (IMP) and 5’-guanosine monophosphate (GMP). These are naturally present in many protein-rich foods. IMP is present in high concentrations in many foods, including dried skipjack tuna flakes used to make “dashi”, a Japanese broth. GMP is present in high concentration in dried shiitake mushrooms, used in much of the cuisine of Asia. There is a synergistic effect between MSG, IMP, and GMP which together in certain ratios produce a strong umami.
Some umami taste buds respond specifically to glutamate in the same way that “sweet” ones respond to sugar. Glutamate binds to a variant of G protein coupled glutamate receptors.
Umami (旨味?) is one of the five generally recognised basic tastes sensed by specialized receptor cells present on the human tongue. Umami is a loanword from Japanese meaning roughly “tasty”, although “brothy”, “meaty”, or “savory” have been proposed as alternate translations. The same taste is also known as xiānwèi (traditional Chinese: 鮮味; simplified Chinese: 鲜味 literally “Fresh Flavor") in Chinese cooking. In as much as it describes the flavor common to savory products such as meat, cheese, and mushrooms, umami is similar to Brillat-Savarin’s concept of osmazome, an early attempt to describe the main flavoring component of meat as extracted in the process of making stock.
The umami taste is due to the detection of the carboxylate anion of glutamic acid, a naturally occurring amino acid common in meats, cheese, broth, stock, and other protein-heavy foods. Salts of the glutamic acid, known as glutamates, easily hydrolyze and give the same taste. For this reason they are used as flavor enhancers. The most commonly used of these is monosodium glutamate (MSG). While the umami taste is due to glutamates, 5’-ribonucleotides such as guanosine monophosphate (GMP) and inosine monophosphate (IMP) greatly enhance its perceived intensity. Since these ribonucleotides are also acids, their salts are sometimes added together with glutamates to obtain a synergisitic flavor enhancement effect.
Umami: The 5th Taste
When we were in grade school, many of us learned that there were four basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Now there’s a new taste to learn and it’s called umami (pronounced “oo-mommy"). Actually, while the term is new to us, it’s not new to the Japanese, who have used the term to describe the “fifth taste” since the early 1900s. What exactly is the umami taste? Well, there’s no English word that’s synonymous with umami, however it’s most often described as a “savory” or “meaty” taste.
Being able to distinguish the umami taste takes some practice because it’s not as obvious as other tastes, such as sweet or bitter. For example, when tasting a homemade chicken broth made without salt or seasoning of any kind, you may find it bland and practically tasteless. If you added a small amount of monosodium glutamate to that same broth, the umami taste it provides may lead you to describe the “enhanced” broth as tasting “more like chicken” than the first broth. This taste is not as simple as making something taste more salty (salt alone can do that). Rather, the umami taste is one of richness, fullness and complexity. Simply put, it just makes the food taste more delicious.
San Francisco (CA) Chronicle
The Fifth Flavor
Elusive taste dimension can mean the difference between balance and blah
Janet Fletcher, CHRONICLE STAFF WRITER
Wednesday, July 5, 2000
Sweet, sour, salty, bitter—all four primary tastes are in impeccable balance. But according to a growing number of chefs and scientists, it’s a fifth taste—the almost indescribable savoriness of anchovy and aged cheese—that makes Caesar salad and many other dishes taste so good.
Increasingly, chefs, food professionals and scientists are acknowledging the existence and impact of umami, that hard-to-define fifth taste. Earlier this year, neuroscientists at the University of Miami reported finding the taste-bud receptors for umami, effectively validating its existence and the human ability to taste it.
For some chefs, a growing awareness of umami is changing the way they approach cooking, and at least one wine expert says the “fifth taste” has dramatic implications for wine and food pairing.
The Fifth Taste: Cooking with Umami
By David Kasabian
Published by Universe
Wall Street Journal
DECEMBER 8, 2007
A New Taste Sensation
Parmesan cheese has it. So does ketchup. It’s umami, and it’s changing the way everyone from top chefs to Frito-Lay executives thinks about food.
By KATY MCLAUGHLIN
Americans are taught from an early age that there are four basic tastes—sweet, salty, sour and bitter. But what describes the taste of chicken soup?
To an increasing number of chefs and food-industry insiders, the answer is “umami,” dubbed “the fifth taste.” First identified by a Japanese scientist a century ago, umami has long been an obscure culinary concept. Hard to describe, it is usually defined as a meaty, savory, satisfying taste.
But now, in the wake of breakthroughs in food science—and amid a burst of competition between ingredient makers to create new food flavorings—umami is going mainstream. Chefs including Jean-Georges Vongerichten are offering what they call “umami bombs,” dishes that pile on ingredients naturally rich in umami for an explosive taste. Packaged-food companies such as Nestlé, Frito-Lay and Campbell’s Soup are trying to ramp up the umami taste in foods like low-sodium soup to make them taste better, while the nation’s mushroom farmers are advertising their produce to chefs as an ideal way to get the umami taste.
Austin (TX) American-Statesman
Understanding umami, the so-called fifth flavor
By Amy Tennery
COLUMBIA NEWS SERVICE
Wednesday, June 03, 2009
Like many who are learning to recognize umami for the first time, the taste was somewhat foreign. Known as the “fifth child” of flavors (after sweet, sour, salty and bitter), umami is the savory taste found in foods like Vegemite, demi-glace and, yes, roasted tomatoes.
New York City • Food/Drink • (0) Comments • Thursday, June 04, 2009 • Permalink