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Naturally Speaking – The Fifth Taste
December 14, 2017  |  by: Gil Bakal, Managing Director, A&B Ingredients

For the longest time, we’ve been told there are four basic tastes — sweet, sour, salty and bitter.  Well, now we learn that isn’t quite true.  There are actually five.  That fifth taste is umami. Not sweet, sour, bitter, or salty, umami is savory.  While it is a standalone flavor, umami also enhances the flavor of foods to which it is added, making them fuller, richer and more intense.

So, what exactly is this umami taste?  It’s not as easily recognizable as other tastes, so extricating the umami flavor can take some effort.  It is mostly described as a “savory.” For instance, an unseasoned broth would certainly be considered bland.  But if you added umami your “enhanced” broth would taste richer, fuller and more complex.

The Japanese are credited with exploring the unique flavor of umami since the early 1900s. In fact, they are believed to be the first to coin the phrase “fifth taste.” The Smithsonian, on its website, gives the following description of how Umami was discovered.  It states:

In 1908, over a bowl of seaweed soup, Japanese scientist Kikunae Ikeda asked a question that would change the food industry forever: what gave dashi, a ubiquitous Japanese soup base, its meaty flavor? In Japanese cuisine, dashi, a fermented base made from boiled seaweed and dried fish, was widely used by chefs to add extra oomph to meals–pairing well with other savory, but meatless foods like vegetables and soy. For some reason that was generally accepted but inexplicable, dashi made these meatless foods meaty–and Ikeda was determined to find out why.

Ikeda was able to isolate the main substance of dashi–the seaweed Laminaria japonica. He then took the seaweed and ran it through a series of chemical experiments, using evaporation to isolate a specific compound within the seaweed. After days of evaporating and treating the seaweed, he saw the development of a crystalline form. When he tasted the crystals, he recognized the distinct savory taste that dashi lent to other foods, a taste that he deemed umami, from the Japanese umai (delicious.) It was a breakthrough that challenged a cornerstone of culinary thinking: instead of four tastes—sweet, salty, bitter and sour—there were now five. A new frontier of taste had been discovered, and Ikeda wasted no time monopolizing on his discovery.

We experience the unique taste of umami by way of taste receptors on the tongue and other regions of the mouth. These taste receptors typically respond to glutamate. The amino acid glutamate delivers the umami taste in foods.

A&B Ingredients has now added the exceptional taste of umami to its natural flavors product category.  Marketed under the Mediterranean Umami brand, it is an all-natural flavor booster extracted from tomato, seaweed and mushrooms and contributes to intensifying the flavor profile of a wide variety of food products.

Mediterranean Umami fulfills demands by consumers for clean-label products with simple ingredients. As an added benefit, Mediterranean Umami not only enhances taste intensity of foods, but is significantly lower in sodium than other food enhancers.

Ultimately, Mediterranean Umami has double effect – sodium reduction and combined natural flavor boosters. Because of its functionality, robust taste and clean-label, Mediterranean Umami is the preferred flavor enhancer vs. other enhancers such as MSG and yeast extracts.

Among the benefits of Mediterranean Umami are:

  • Substantial sodium reduction – Up to 45%
  • Clean label
  • No artificial flavors.
  • All-natural – Non-GMO
  • Allergan-free
  • Retains savory flavor profile
  • Applicable to a broad variety of products

In short, the extraordinary flavor of A&B Ingredients’ Mediterranean Umami is a welcome addition to any food and beverage manufacturer’s ingredients toolbox!

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