Umami: The Fifth Flavour


As everyone knows I am a huge advocate and supporter of The Food Network. Religion really. I worship at the altar of Rachel, Nigella, and Michael. The latter saint, Michael Smith has peaked my interest on something lately that I’ve only briefly looked into before, and that is the concept of the fifth taste.

I was re-familiarized with the concept of taste receptors in my WSET class for wine when we all identified the parts of the tongue that gave us the sensations of sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. Michael Smith now though, on two separate shows has mentioned Umami. See, Umami (a.k.a. savoury) is a concept that other cultures in the world have freely accepted, but something that we don’t hear a lot here. I mean sure, we hear about savoury food as in the opposite of sweet am I wrong? Not as in, our body’s innate need for protein. Huh?

Umami is the body’s detection of glutamic acid which occurs in things like cheese or meat. I always tell people that I don’t eat junk food because cheese IS my junk food. I know a lot of people can attest to this, because really, the general consensus in human beings is ‘cheese please’. Well, that’s why. You’re body craves protein. It’s actually the salts in foods like these, and in things that are aged or fermented, such as soy sauce, that ionize in the same form to give the same taste regardless of the food it’s coming from. Mmm, addicting.

Funny enough, Umami was coined and tagged by a guy named Kikunae Ikeda while studying seaweed broth. Guess what this guy ended up discovering and marketing? MONOSODIUM GLUTAMATE! That’s right. You know how you can’t stop eating the doritos, the chip dip, the chinese food? Umami’s to blame.

So although we should stay away from MSG (PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD), god bless Umami. Next time you can’t stop eating something, think about whether you really have any choice? HA! Because in the same way tasting sweet and sour comes without conscious control, Mother Nature might have a greater hold of your tastebuds – that cheese, that steak, your need for protein – than you originally thought.