13 February 2010

The Fifth Taste - (Or is it really the Seventh?)

I always thought there already were 6 tastes detectable by the human tongue: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, astringent, and pungent. But now there is another, related to MSG, called umami. Umami is a Japanese word that means, 'deliciousness' or 'savoriness' and is described as the meaty flavor of meat or mushrooms as well as the deep flavor associated with sea weed dishes. The umami taste was 'discovered' in Japan more than a hundred years ago and is a chemical signal that indicates the presence of proteins. So it is not really new- in fact, it is present in breast milk and many common foods. What is new is that it is now available as a spice to be added to foods to give it that special something.
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You've tried sweet, sour, bitter and salty... now tubes of the 'fifth taste' to be sold in supermarkets
Neil Millard

10th February 2010
Many an amateur chef has tasted a dish only to declare that something is missing.
What follows is the inevitable excursion through the larder looking for that magic ingredient.
But the days of this culinary lottery appear to be numbered as a substance first known only to science - bottled 'deliciousness' - is coming to the High Street.
Umami was discovered 102 years ago by a Japanese scientist but until now has only graced the shelves of Michelin-starred restaurants.
It is the secret to making anything taste fantastic, so much so it is known as the 'fifth taste'.
And pretty soon you will be able to add it to absolute everything as tubes of the wonder stuff go on sale in 197 branches of Waitrose for £2.99 a tube.
Named Taste No 5, evoking the added allure of a high-class perfume, it triggers the sensation of delight in the brain when at least one of the primary tastes of sweet, sour, bitter and salty is also present.
Food writer Laura Santtini, who developed the purée, said: 'I wanted to get away from the notion that umami is something of interest to scientists that no one else can really understand.
'The truth is that umami should be of interest to anyone who has a tongue.
'Umami is part of our everyday eating lives, it is just that many of us don't know what to call it. It is what gives depth of flavour to food.
Umami - the fifth sense of taste
Umami is the Japanese word for the fifth basic sense of taste, after bitter, salty, sour and sweet.
Despite being known in the East for more than 100 years, particularly Japan, it is a relatively new concept to the West where only the four primary tastes are recognised.
Umami means deliciousness in Japanese, but translates best as 'savouriness' and provides the 'meaty' flavour in meat.
It is formed from glutamates being detected by receptors on the tongue and is the reason why monosodium glutamate (MSG) is used as a flavour enhancer.
It is also found naturally in meats, cheeses and mushrooms.
'Every food culture has its umami-rich ingredients, whether it is seaweed in Japan or Parmesan in Italy.'
The ingredients in her recipe for umami, literally meaning 'taste', include pulped anchovy and porcini mushrooms.
The umami revolution began in 1908 when Tokyo chemist Kikunae Ikeda identified it as a flavour present in foods high in glutamate.
He had first been alerted by the distinctive taste of seaweed, or kombu, which itself is high in the chemical.
His work led him to crystallise monosodium glutamate (MSG), the controversial flavour enhancer which has since become famous all over the world.
Then in 2000 researchers at the University of Miami discovered the tongue had taste receptors dedicated to sensing glutamate, which signals the presence of proteins in food that the body needs.
The opportunities presented by umami have since been exploited by the restaurant world and celebrity chefs including Heston Blumenthal who purposefully plates up dishes brimming with umami at his Fat Duck restaurant in Bray, Berkshire.
Far from being a Japanese phenomenon there are examples of foods high in umami in every culture.
Worcestershire Sauce and Marmite are two British standard bearers. Human breast milk is also high in umami.
Taste No 5 will be stocked in 197 branches of Waitrose from next week and will go on sale at the Booths supermarket chain in northern England next month.

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