Umami – Why it Matters

Umami is one of the five basic tastes alongside sweet, salty, bitter, and sour, and it makes food more mouthwatering and addictive. Umami is also a functional flavor with many health benefits, and it plays a significant role in human nutrition. Join us as we unpack the nuances of this complex savory flavor and how it affects the body with some umami-flavored foods to incorporate into your diet.
What is Umami Flavor?
Japanese chemist, Dr. Kikunae Ikeda, coined the word umami in 1908, which loosely translates to a “pleasant savory taste”. Umami is a complex flavor that gets its characteristic taste from three compounds, namely, glutamate, inosinate, and guanylate. These compounds are amino acids that bind with your taste receptors to create a hearty, savory sensation on the tongue and often taste meaty and heavy, even in plant-based meals.
Foods That Have an Umami Flavor
You typically find umami in protein-rich foods. Some processes, such as curing or fermentation, break down these proteins, releasing free glutamate in the food and enhancing the umami flavor. Some foods rich in umami taste include:

  • Foods containing MSG (monosodium glutamate)
  • Mushrooms
  • Soy sauce
  • Tomatoes
  • Beef
  • Seaweed
  • Parmesan cheese

The Role of Umami Taste in the Human Body
All basic tastes have a function in the human body – sweetness attracts us to carbohydrates for energy, sourness and bitterness protect us from ingesting toxins from spoiled food, and saltiness helps regulate sodium and fluid intake.
Here are the functions of umami in the human body:

  • Helps your body recognize protein in food. Amino acids stimulate g-coupled protein receptors on the tongue, triggering the umami taste response and helping us detect protein in food. These taste receptors may have guided early humans toward more nutritious food high in protein and probiotics.

  • Boosts salivation and appetite. When the body detects umami flavors, it secretes saliva and digestive juices to help you digest complex proteins. A recent Japanese study found that many older adults who suffer from reduced umami taste sensation also complained about appetite and weight loss1. Reduced salivary flow can impair your taste capabilities – often causing decreased appetite and malnutrition.

  • Helps you maintain a healthy weight. Some studies suggest that umami flavors can induce a sense of satiety, helping you feel full and satisfied after a meal. Experiencing this long-lasting taste sensation regularly may prevent you from snacking after meals and overeating throughout the day to maintain a healthy body weight.

Adding Umami Flavor to Food With Savory Flavorings
While umami is a naturally-occurring flavor found in many fermented and protein-rich foods, flavorists can source and synthesize compounds that create the same rich, hearty taste sensation on the tongue. Volatile sulfur compounds, such as disulfides and trisulfides, can contribute to the aroma and flavor of processed foods. Sulfurous, savory flavors are excellent food additives to build oniony, beefy, roasted tastes that stimulate umami responses.
Umami is a basic human taste sensation that feels satisfying, rich, meaty, and filling, commonly found in foods such as beef, soy, tomatoes, seaweed, and cheese. Tasting umami food stimulates salivation and digestive juice secretion, promoting a healthy appetite and protein intake. Reduced umami sensation can lead to taste disorders that cause weight loss and impaired oral health. Advanced Biotech is a leading supplier of savory food flavors that enhance umami taste. Please contact us for more information.