Known as the fifth flavor, causes curiosity wherever it sounds. But how can we understand what a new flavor tastes like? Let’s try to unravel it.
We have all grown up knowing four flavors: salty, sweet, acid and bitter. They all sound to you, right? Well, what you might not know is that the human being is able to recognize five (according to what we know to date). The fifth, the one you are trying to imagine, is the Umami flavor.
Since it is not related to anything we are able to represent at the gustatory level, it is as complicated to recognize as to explain. But, once understood, one finds Umami everywhere.
The word is Japanese and, broadly speaking, means “tasty.” Apparently, the person who began coining this term was the Japanese Kikunae Ikeda, to talk about foods that has a very intense and delicious taste and that only by their presence enhances the flavor of others.
It was in 1908, when this scientist discovered that the person responsible for the pronounced flavor of the Kombu seaweed cooking broth was monosodium glutamate, also called ajinomoto. Kikunae warned that the taste of glutamate was not like any of the four known flavors. And that was when he described the taste of this flavor-enhancing powder as Umami. Therefore, the ajinomoto or glutamate is considered to be practically pure Umami.
What foods can we find Umami?
Little by little, the fifth taste has been detected in many foods that are already present in our lives. Some examples are cured ham, (yes, that intense flavor it has is the Umami flavor!) cheese, anchovies, ripe tomatoes and soy sauce.
In addition to being different from the flavors we knew, although we were already feeling it without naming it, the Umami has been studied for enhancing the flavor of the ingredients with which it is mixed. A good example is when we enrich a stew or broth with a ham bone. We are intensifying the overall flavor of the dish (giving it more Umami) and not only giving it the specific food, which in this case would be ham.
This happens, like the best things in life, for a chemical issue. Foods with glutamate, when combined with those containing ribonucleotides, multiply the respective flavors.
Matcha, a source of Umami
One of the most potent sources of Umami that we can find among the foods present in the West is matcha tea. When it is of ceremonial quality and has been collected following the traditional process, its velvety and intense flavor brings us a wave of Umami.