When it comes to taste, we generally think of sweet, sour, bitter and salty flavours. But did you know there’s a 5th taste? It’s called umami and makes up the savory tastes like fish, cured meats, vegetables like cabbage, spinach, and celery, as well as fermented and aged foods like cheese. Umami comes from our natural cravings for protein, and has always been inherent in our eating habits.
Umami was first considered a scientific term as recently as 1985, and is mostly known in the realm of cuisine. Our tongues actually have receptors for umami flavours, just like salty, sweet, sour and bitter tastes. Umami is full of richness, fullness, and complexity. The term was first coined in Japan, and many umami flavours can be found in Japanese dishes like ramen, and incorporate umami rich foods like seaweed. Umami is difficult to pin down, especially because we can specifically point out ingredients that make up other tastes: salt=salty, sugar=sweet. But umami is more about the complexity and body of a dish.
So how exactly do we add umami flavours into our everyday meals?
Surprisingly tomatoes are high in umami’s main componend: glutamate, as well as Parmesan cheese. Incorporating these ingredients into dishes like pasta create an umami bomb of flavour. Meats like beef and pork, specifically bacon and cured ham are very rich in umami flavours. If you’re not so keen on meat, mushrooms contain umami flavours are a fantastic meat substitute. Soy and carrots are healthy umami options, as well as green tea. Seafoods like shrimp, tuna, clams, oysters, mussels, and scallops are also umami rich proteins.
Photo Courtesy of Bon Appetit