Thursday, April 8, 2010
Umami the Fifth Taste
Umami (pronounced oo-MAH-mee) is a Japanese word for a taste that can't be categorized as one of the four tastes we traditionally recognize: sweet, salty, sour, or bitter. It is often referred to as the "fifth taste," and is usually described as meaty or savory - like the flavor of grilled fish or rich chicken soup.
What distinguishes umami foods from others is glutamate, an amino acid. Studies have shown that we have receptors on the tongue for glutamate and related compounds. In the traditional cuisines of East Asia, glutamate-rich foods such as seaweeds and mushrooms have long been used to add a deep savory flavor to soups and sauces.
If you seek more of this rich, satisfying flavor in your meals, remember that umami can be found in foods such as Parmesan cheese, anchovies, tomatoes, tomato paste, asparagus, mushrooms, and seaweeds. Adding it can be as simple as including some tomatoes or shiitake mushrooms into soups, stocks and sauces, or sprinkling some good Parmesan on your salads or vegetables.