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Umami Taste and Flavour Experience

rediscovering_umami2

Courtesy of StarChefs.com

How we experience our food

“How we experience food is a multi-sensory experience involving taste, feel of the food in our mouths, aroma, and the feasting of out eyes” Prof. Charles Spence, Oxford University

taste-experience

courtesy of Umami Information Centre

The mechanic of how we taste

papillae

Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taste

The tongue is covered with thousands of small bumps called papillae, each of which contains hundreds of taste buds. The taste buds are designed to sense chemicals in the mouth. There are between 2000 and 5000 taste on top of the tongue alone. Others are located on the roof, sides and back of the mouth, and in the throat. Each taste bud contains 50 to 100 taste receptor cells. As we chew food, molecules mix with saliva, enter taste pores & interact with the taste receptors. This triggers a nerve impulse transmitted to the brain.

location-of-tastesThe sensation of taste includes five established basic tastes: sweetness, sourness, saltiness, bitterness, and umami. Scientific experiments have proven that these five tastes exist and are distinct from one another.

On average, taste buds live for about 5 days, after which new ones replace them. As we get older, the rate of creation on new taste buds slows down making us less sensitive to tastes.

 

Umami, history of a separate taste

Umami has long been associated with Japanese cuisine and certain ingredients like Seaweed/Kombu, shiitake mushrooms, bonito flakes etc...

It's a concept that's been part of Japanese culinary traditions and consciously used by Japanese chefs for centuries. But it's at the beginning of the 20th century that Japanese scientists isolated the taste and demonstrated its uniqueness. After much debate, Umami was coined as the scientific term to describe this new taste in 1985.

Although the Japanese word ‘Umami’ has traditionally refered to the flavour of dashi - the base of Japanese cuisine - the actual concept is more generic and actually describe the synergistic effects between the amino-acid glutamate & natural compounds called ribonucleotides, present in many foods. So it follows that although umami started as a Japanese concept, it is valid in many culinary traditions and is reflected in the best traditional dishes nations have in their culinary repertoire.

Foods rich in Umami

Many foods we consume daily are rich in umami components - asparagus, potatoes, walnuts, chicken -- others develop it over time as proteins break down through maturation/aging or fermentation. Seaweed is one of the most umami of all foods it explains why it's been the basis of Japanese cuisine. But most of the strong-flavoured, highly concentrated foods, like anchovies, prosciutto, Parmesan, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, fish sauce, Marmite, blue cheese, miso etc.. are packed with umami (glutamate).

It is interesting to note that umami is part of our lives from the very beginning: humans' first encounter with umami is breast milk, which contains roughly the same amount of umami as traditional broths.

What Umami does to food

Umami is said to increase palatability of food by increasing the savoury flavour, stimulating salivary flow and adding to the satisfying sensation of food.
In an otherwise balanced dish, Umami will:

  • Heightens the total resulting flavour impact of a dish
  • Contributes to the mouth feel
  • Enhances the flavour of ingredients
  • Delays palate fatigue – exhaustion of sensory sensitivity
  • Promotes satiety
  • Extends the finish – rounding up texture & flavour

Umami interacts differently with other tastes, it will:

  1. heightens perceived salt, thus allowing dishes with less salt to taste as good
  2. heightens perceived sweet, thus allowing recipes with less sugar to be as delicious
  3. soften sour
  4. masks bitter

As it gets better understood, Umami foods & condiments are gaining popularity for culinary and health purposes, potentially reducing salt & sugar in prepared foods and also offering solutions for the elderly to make food more tasty and increase desire to eat for those who have lost it. Read more about the health

Sources:

Umami: convergence of tastes
Receptors & role as food flavour
Umami & food palatability
Umami impact
Taste receptors for Umami
Receptor mechanisms - Umami
Gustatory responses to Umami

 

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