Umami: The 5th Taste
If you want to taste sweet, you lick a lollipop.
If you want to taste salty, you munch on a potato chip.
If you want to taste sour, you bite into a lemon.
If you want to taste bitter, you sip on some black coffee.
But what do you do if you want to taste umami?
Umami means “essence of deliciousness” in Japanese, and its taste is often described as the meaty, savory deliciousness that deepens flavor. To get technical - umami is the taste of glutamate, inosinate, and guanylate - which we'll discuss later.
Think about the sensation you get when you eat foods like aged cheeses, cured meats, egg yolks, tomatoes, mushrooms, salmon and steak. Umami that savory, mouthwatering taste that is universally enjoyed around the world.
We have approximately 8,000 taste buds and each contains a mixture of receptor cells, allowing them to taste any of our five tastes. Umami is a taste that spreads across the entire tongue, and is perceived as coating the whole palate. It is the savory or "meaty" taste of foods.
Umami is a taste that lingers on the palate. Tastes like salty and sour are strong and up-front, but quickly fade away. Umami on the other hand, retains its intensity for an extended period of time. This creates a craveable effect, making umami-rich foods hard to resist.
The glutamic acid (glutamate) in umami-rich foods promotes salivation and is further elevated when combined with nucleotides (inosinate and guanylate). This stimulates our appetites, heightens our pleasure perception, and increases overall satisfaction when eating these types of foods.
Learn from our experts:
Two experts at Biospringer North America presented a webinar about umami taste. During this recording they answer the following:
CLICK HERE to watch the webinar
Umami has the effect of moderating both sour and bitter tastes. Sour taste is appealing because it provides tart and tangy notes, but can easily become overwhelming and unbearable. Umami can lighten sour components to take the edge off tartness. Bitterness can also become a harsh taste if too much is present in a dish. Umami can mask this unpleasant quality.
The presence of salt highlights umami, and the presence of umami provides a feeling of satisfaction - even when salt is reduced! The balance between salt and umami is the key to delicious food, and by incorporating more umami taste in cooking you can greatly reduce sodium levels, which is particularly important when creating heath conscious food items.
Umami synergy involves the relationship between glutamate and two additional molecules, the nucleotides inosinate and guanylate.
Inosinate and guanylate do not create umami taste on their own, but when present alongside glutamate, they are capable of amplifying the umami taste. Not only is the umami taste magnified, it is more sustained and longer lasting, too!
This phenomenon, only recently unraveled at the molecular level, plays a role in worldwide cuisine, driving us to combine ingredients rich in glutamate with those rich in inosinate and guanylate.
Examples of this in western cuisine includes:
Achieving Umami Taste with Yeast Extract
Yeast is a single-celled organism that predates humans by hundred of millions of years. There are more than 1,500 species of yeast, but the one we are all familiar with is called Saccharomyces Cerevisiae, from the Latin word meaning "sugar fungus". This yeast is commonly referred to as baker's yeast or brewer's yeast and is used in the bread you eat and beer you drink.
Yeast cells contain a great deal of glutamates, but in order to release umami flavor, they need to be broken down into free glutamate. This occurs through a process called autolysis - when the cells own enzymes break down the protein. Yeast extract consists of the soluble portion of the yeast cells after the cell wall is removed.
Yeast extract is used in a variety of foods to bring umami taste. It even contains protein, vitamins, and minerals, providing additional nutritional benefits!
Biospringer's Umami Range of yeast extracts contain both free glutamates and nucleotides to provide the synergistic effect , and can be used in very small quantities to provide impactful umami properties. And because they are naturally derived from yeast, they are great replacement for MSG (monosodium glutamate). For more information on Biospringer's Umami Range of yeast extract products, CLICK HERE.
Isn't Glutamate Bad for Me?
The simple answer to this question is: No.
Glutamate, or glutamic acid, is an amino acid. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Proteins, in turn, are large amino acid polymers, characterized by complex three-dimensional structures and sophisticated biological functions.
Glutamate is also one of the most abundant amino acids in the human body. The highest concentrations are present in the brain and muscles. Additionally, it plays an important role in cell energy production and protein synthesis.
The glutamate in yeast extract is derived naturally.