Umami taste is 'missing link'

Sunday, 06 November, 2005

Umami differs from sweet, sour, salty and bitter tastes by providing a meaty, savoury sensation.

Although umami taste receptors have recently been confirmed, from a culinary perspective the umami taste is not new. Fermented fish sauces and intense meat and vegetable extracts have been valued in world cuisines for more than 2000 years.

In 1866, Ritthausen identified the amino acid glutamic acid which elicited the umami taste in humans. Later, in 1908, Ikeda proposed umami as a separate, distinct taste.

But the umami taste took off in the 20th century with the advent of monosodium glutamate (MSG), formulated in Japan in 1909 and launched into the US markets by 1917.

MSG and nucleotides are often used by product development technologists to enhance natural umami flavours.

MSG, glutamate and nucleotides may together help provide food technologists with the 'missing links' in recipes.

This may be because combined they work in synergy to round out food flavours when a food is missing something that has not been clearly identified.

Foods cooked in steam kettles may not achieve the full, meaty and savoury flavours that are available to the home cook, so addition of umami-rich ingredients can help fill out flavour profiles.

Umami can be used to impart fuller flavour with less total sodium and calories.

In Western foods the umami taste comes from bouillon (originally formulated by the Swiss flour manufacturer Julius Maggi) which gives a similar meaty flavour to Asian dashi.

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