Umami is often designated as the fifth taste. Food industry and cooks are now consciously exploiting this taste with various methods. Dishes with prominent umami taste can be particularly savory and delicious. By focusing on umami taste, cooks can reduce the level of fat and salt in foods that can potentially cause health risks. There are various healthy sources of umami taste, including tomatoes, asparagus, seaweed and soy. To better understand umami, you should be able to tell the difference between taste and flavour. In general, taste is our basic perceptions on our tongue, which include sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Pineapple is both sour and sweet, but there’s a distinct pineapple flavour as well.
It appears that umami is in the same group with four other existing tastes. Umami can be found naturally on various food ingredients. One way to distinguish taste from flavour is by holding your nose. You will still perceive basic taste, lemon still taste sour and sugar still taste sweet; but you can barely taste any flavour from your food. This test also applies to umami, so it is clearly part of the taste family.
The umami taste is often associated with a substance called glutamate. It’s a naturally occurring chemical found on various food ingredients. Glutamate is one of dozens of amino acids that makes up protein. It is grouped as non-essential amino acids, which may sound a bit misleading. Non-essential amino acids are still critical for our health, but it means that they can be produced inside our body through internal processes. Glutamate works as a neurotransmitter to ensure the smooth biochemical processes in our body. Our memory and learning performance is also affected by the presence of glutamate in our body.
When we talk about umami, we eventually need to talk about MSG or monosodium glutamate. It’s essentially a salt form of glutamic acid with the addition of one sodium atom. There’s a big controversy surrounding MSG and many have reported the possible health risks. Although FDA convinces us that MSG is safe, there are obviously some correlations with various health conditions. Short term effects may include weakness, drowsiness, rapid heartbeat, nausea, headache, chest pain, tightness, tingling, burning sensation and overall numbness. Studies have also shown that regular use of MSG increases the risk of glaucoma and asthma. Obesity is an indirect effect of regular MSG consumption. Admittedly, MSG will make any meal tastier and it is more likely for you to overeat. Higher calories intake will cause you to gain weight uncontrollably.
Alternatively, you should look for healthier sources of glutamate, such as seaweed, tomatoes and mushroom. Sweet ripe tomatoes are particularly high in glutamates. Cut ripe tomatoes into smaller sauce and boil it with a bit of water. Make sure that tomatoes dissolve completely and wait until it has creamy consistency. You may use it for steak sauce, stir-fried vegetables, soups and other dishes. So, other than getting the natural glutamates, you can also guarantee to obtain plenty of nutrients for these sources.