Using umami to eat well

Is there a fifth taste? We are familiar with the four tastes namely, sweet, sour, bitter and salt, but have we heard of Umami?. More than 100 years ago a Japanese professor proposed the existence of a fifth taste and identified it as umami. Yet it took 8 decades later for it to be scientifically accepted by the academic community. Sensory scientists say the closest English term for it would be delicious savouriness or a meaty aftertaste that lingers on the tongue after eating certain foods.Typical umami taste would be that of fish sauce.

The umami taste is due to presence of an amino acid L glutamine and ribonucleotides. The good thing about umami is that it enhances the taste of foods, satisfies the palate even in small amounts and lasts long after such foods have been eaten.

This perhaps can be used to benefit those who are restricting salt or trying to control hunger.

Foods high in umami

Foods that deliver the umami taste are meats, fish, shellfish, cured meat, aged cheese, fermented sauces like fish sauce, miso, anchovy sauce, soybean, carrots, spinach, shiitake mushrooms, tomatoes, tomato paste, Chinese cabbage, leeks, asparagus, most sauces, dried seaweed, green tea, truffles, Parmesan cheese, oyster sauce.

Synergy of umami

Some foods contain L glutamine and some others ribonucleotides. When these kinds of foods are combined, one gets a better appeasement from the umami taste. Examples are Parmesan cheese and mushrooms with tomatoes or tomato sauce, cabbage and chicken soup, beef and mushrooms, Korean kimchi (cabbage and fish sauce), Japanese kombu dashi (stock with seaweed)etc

Using umami to eat well

• Since umami is a distinctive taste, the elderly with impaired sense of taste, or the anosmic (those with impaired sense of smell) may enjoy eating better with umami foods.

• Those on low salt diet may find dishes more appetizing when foods that give umami flavour are incorporated in them. There is no need to add salt to dishes made with the foods that are rich in umami.

• A sense of satiety is perceived from the umami taste, and thus may help the overweight who need to control hunger to reduce weight. If you have cravings for that certain taste that is not satisfied with eating salty, sweet, bitter or sour foods, then perhaps what you need to appease your appetite is eating foods considered to be umami.

Parvathy R Krishnan

The author is a trained Nutrition & Dietetics expert with over 20 years’ of experience in hospitals like Vijaya Hospital in Chennai and the Armed Forces Hospital and New Mowasat Hospitals in Kuwait. She is presently a member of the Research Society for the Study of Diabetes in India. Parvathy blogs at

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