Our sense of taste has evolved over time to detect key components in food which are important for our healthy development and those which we need to avoid. The pleasure and benefit
we get from food is determined by a complex combination of factors such as
aroma, texture, temperature, environment and food culture.
Most people are well aware of the four basic tastes:
sour and bitter. But did you know that we all have a taste quality that cannot
be described by any of these four sensations. So what is this other taste
sensation? Japanese scientists have discovered a peculiar taste arising from
which they believe is distinct from the four known tastes
They called this fifth taste "umami" and found that it is evoked by glutamic
acid and its salts.
has been described as "rounded, rich and savory
and means "deliciousness" in Japanese. The literal translation means "pleasant,
savory taste". After many years of research, scientists have now added umami as
the mythical fifth taste of glutamates and nucleotides.
Umami captures what is sometimes described as the
taste of protein
. Umami-rich foods include
, parmesan cheese
cured ham, vegemite, marmite, soy sauce, oyster sauce, dried shiitake mushrooms
When foods age, like cheese, or when meat begins to cook
under the heat of an open flame, the proteins within undergo a molecular change
and are broken apart into various units, one of which is called L-glutamate,
which is the singular molecule responsible for umami. Similar to the other four
basic tastes, umami is sensed when L-glutamate binds to specific receptors on
your tongue which causes a chain reaction of chemical processes resulting in
Despite the controversy, monosodium
(MSG), is widely used in cooking and food production the
world over. It is actually the easiest way to increase umami in food as it
produces no other tastes or flavours to the final dish.
A new study
reveals that the so-called 'fifth taste' in sauces
and meat helps us feel satisfied faster and thus helps keep our weight in
check. This study, which is published in The
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
, found that monosodium glutamate
(MSG) can make food tastier and has been shown to increase satiety when
combined with protein.
The researchers studied
the correlation between MSG and appetite
when it was combined
with a carbohydrate-heavy meal. The study participants included 27 people who
all had the same breakfast. They were split into 2 groups. Before lunch, one
group received a soup with no MSG, the other group got a bowl with plenty of
MSG as well as IMP (Inosine Monophosphate), which is a nucleotide that is often
used to boost umami flavours.
The lead author said 'It's the additional IMP
mixed with the MSG that reduced intake whilst maintaining satisfaction. IMP is
normally found in very high protein foods such as skipjack tuna and some forms
The authors observed that when it came to eating
lunch, those who'd consumed the soup
with MSG before ate less and were satisfied by their smaller meal, suggesting umami
can help control appetite.
Recognizing the power of umami can help us
understand our food
. It also helps explain why we crumble cheese on a roasted
beet and arugula salad or why we add a dollop of tomato paste to a stew or
splash soy sauce in a stir-fry. They all make a meal more satisfying.