Umami taste: what is the fifth taste, what foods does it appear in and why shouldn’t we overdo it? The Japanese word umami It means “delicious” or “tasty” and is a flavoring that we can find in plant or animal foods and is also an artificial additive.
Humans can recognize five basic tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami. But even though we all know what tastes sweet, sour, bitter or salty and what foods taste like that, can you tell what umami tastes like? The fifth taste is often described as salty, but that’s not entirely true: it’s this almost addictive taste that keeps you from putting down the bag of chips until they’re gone.
What is umami taste?
The word umami is made up of the Japanese words “umai” (delicious or tasty) and “mi” (taste). The name of the flavor was given in 1908 by the Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda, a professor at the University of Tokyo, after he extracted glutamic acid from kombu seaweed and was surprised by its wonderful taste.
Just as sweetness alerts us to the presence of carbohydrates in foods and bitterness alerts us that they may be toxic, umami alerts our body to the presence of amino acids and proteins in those foods we are about to eat.
It is a subtle but persistent aroma that stimulates the palate and the back of the mouth and provokes salivation.
By itself it is not delicious, but it enhances and enhances the taste of the dish, especially when accompanied by the right aroma.
The umami taste comes from three compounds that occur naturally in plants and meat, particularly glutamate, but also inosinate and guanylate.
Glutamate is one of the 20 amino acids that make up proteins and is found in both plant and animal foods. Inosinate is found primarily in meat, while the highest levels of guanylate are found in plants. Glutamate is currently used worldwide as a spice and additive in the food industry.
Umami flavored foods
Umami flavors are not always easy to detect in foods, but some examples include tomatoes, mushrooms, seaweed, soy products, yeast, green tea, peas, garlic, onions, meat, sausage, seafood or certain cheeses (e.g. Parmesan) . ).
It is important to note that fermenting and canning foods breaks down proteins and creates free glutamate.
As a flavor enhancer, glutamate is contained in many foods (chips, sauces, pickles, ready meals…) and in many different forms (monoammonium glutamate, calcium diglutamate, monoammonium glutamate or monopotassium glutamate). On the label you will find the name or E number from E620 to E625.
It should be noted that the concentrations of glutamate when it occurs naturally in foods are not as high as when added as an additive in the food industry.
Why do you recommend avoiding excess glutamate?
As we have seen, glutamate is a natural substance found in natural foods. Our body can synthesize glutamate from other amino acids, so we don’t need to supplement it with food. It is an important neurotransmitter that we must have in sufficient quantities in our brain, as excess glutamate can be harmful. However, it is assumed that glutamate used as a dietary supplement cannot cross the blood-brain barrier.
The problem is that glutamate, when used as an additive to improve taste, stimulates the appetite and makes it difficult, for example, to leave a bag of chips uneaten. Not only does this cause you to eat more than necessary and contribute to weight gain, but it can also have harmful effects in some people, such as:
- Headache or migraine
- Chinese restaurant syndrome, which can cause stomach pain, nausea, or diarrhea.
- On the other hand, there are people who are allergic to glutamate, which can lead to symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, reddening of the skin, sweating or migraines.
So now you know: If you consume highly processed foods and can’t stop, think about how harmful they can be to your health and better look for a natural food.
With information from: