Umami Who?

by Joanna

Umami. No, it’s not a typo. As I was browsing some recent literature on nutrition, I came upon this word. Say it with me – UMAMI. (OOO-MAH-MAY) Pretty cool, right? What’s even cooler is that umami refers to the fifth taste humans are able to distinguish. The others are more familiar to the ears - bitter, sweet, salty, and sour. And then there’s UMAMI! (Come on, you know it's fun to say. I can see you silently mouthing it to yourself as you read this.) So, what exactly does umami taste like?  

According to various sources, it can best be described as ‘savory’ and plays an important role in making food taste delicious.  You may be asking yourself, ‘Have I ever tasted umami?’ I can conjure up sweet, sour, salty, and bitter flavors from just reading these words, but UMAMI?! I can barely say it, let alone try to put a flavor to the word.  

The TODAY show has an interesting test to describe how taste differs from flavor. This may help those of us who don’t have the faintest clue whether or not we’ve had umami before. Try this with a flavored jelly bean. Put one in your mouth and chew it while holding your nose. You may taste a sweet sensation, but that's it. Then, release your nose. When you do, the fullness of the jelly bean flavor will come rushing through, whether it be bubble-gum or lemon drop. This is because our olfactory senses (smell) are necessary for completing many of the flavors we experience. That's not the case with the basic tastes (like umami), which are detected solely by the tongue. 

So try this same test with, say, a ripe tomato (high in umami), and that should bring on some savory, delicious YUM that can be attributed to – you guessed it, UMAMI!  

Another interesting application of this newly defined taste is – surprisingly – potential weight loss. According to David Kasabian, author of Umami: Cooking with the Fifth Taste, “…foods that have umami we find to be very delicious and very satisfying. Foods that don't have umami we tend to find very thin and not very satisfying. And as a result we eat more food. So, umami-rich food creates satisfaction.” 

Makes sense right? Enjoy what you’re eating, and you’ll probably be satisfied with less of it. If you’re interested in capitalizing on this information, here’s a list of umami rich foods to get you started:

  • Tomatoes                                                                   
  • Shiitake mushrooms
  • Truffles
  • Soybeans
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Tuna
  • Squid
  • Pork
  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Parmesan Cheese
  • Green Tea
  • Soy Sauce

The next time you bite into something scrumptious, just remember – you can thank UMAMI and the taste buds responsible. There are also several recipes out there designed to help bring on the full umami experience.  

Have you heard of umami before? Do you have a better way to describe it? I’d love to hear from you with any recipes or information!  


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