There’s been a lot of buzz in recent years about umami, but many Americans are still unfamiliar with this savory, mouthwatering, and evocative taste. Even fewer of us know about the science of umami or how humans came to discover it.
Umami is the taste of glutamate, a naturally occurring substance found in mushrooms, meat, vegetables, and other food groups. As organic mushroom growers, we believe this taste is highly underrated! We know mushrooms are a great source of umami and can really round out the perfect meal. Here are a few facts about this elusive “fifth taste.”
Umami’s Scientific Backing
You may think umami is unworthy of its own designation. After all, couldn’t you just say it’s made up of a combination of the other flavors, with a dash of unctuous mouthfeel? Actually, umami’s legitimacy is strongly backed by science.
While the idea of different regions of the tongue being more receptive to certain flavors has been debunked, we do have certain receptors that allow us to experience different tastes. In 2002, scientists found umami receptors on the human tongue. This was confirmation that it should be considered its own flavor.
The science behind how we experience umami is fascinating. When you eat a savory gourmet mushroom dish packed with this tasty essence, you’ll experience three distinct phenomena:
- The umami taste spreads across your tongue
- Umami provides a mouthwatering sensation
- The flavor lasts longer than other basic tastes
These factors are why umami tends to be a very powerful taste associated with a specific feeling of satiety and contentment.
It’s About More Than Flavor
Umami is certainly a well-loved flavor, and it comes with an interesting history. It was first discovered in Japan, a country with a deep love of savory, umami foods. Professor Kikunae Ikeda isolated the flavor in 1907 after analyzing dashi, a broth made from a sea vegetable called kombu. The word umami roughly means “essence of deliciousness” in Japanese. Many traditional Japanese ingredients include this taste: fish, sea vegetables, fermented sauces, local mushrooms, and more. Japanese chefs believe umami is about creating a perfectly balanced meal using these and other ingredients
Many umami foods are reminiscent of a warm, home cooked, cozy meal. It may be the most evocative taste; if you think of an umami-packed dish you love, it probably comes with a memory. Maybe it’s your grandma’s homemade spaghetti with a meaty sauce or a bowl of soup that’s been simmering on the stove all day in preparation for your Sunday dinner.
Finding Umami in Nature
Umami flavors are often found in our everyday foods. Animal products are notoriously rich in umami: from grilled meats to fresh cheeses, you probably experience umami at least once per day. Vegetarians and vegans aren’t excluded from the umami fun, though. Mushrooms are a great source of plant-based umami flavor. In fact, mushrooms can actually be dried and powdered to use as an umami seasoning in many savory dishes!
R&R Cultivation is your local source for plant-based umami goodness. Our gourmet, organic mushrooms have a variety of flavor profiles, but they can all add a hearty umami taste to your favorite dishes.