Umami: Using The Fifth Taste to Improve Your Food’s Flavor

Dorian Martin | Mar 30th 2015 Apr 10th 2017

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We often reach for seasonings to accent the flavor of food as we cook. However, there are other ways to improve flavor. For instance, using foods that promote umami can make dishes tastier (and healthier, in some cases). Umami is a pleasant savory taste that is found in many foods including meat, fish, vegetables and dairy products.

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Sources of Umami

The taste of umami is created through two types of amino acids, aspartate and glutamate. These acids, which are a structural element of protein, create the umami flavor through combining with various types of foods. Umami also can be created by nucleotides inosinate, which are found in meat and fish, and guanylate, which are in mushrooms.

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Umami Source: Tomatoes

Tomatoes are a common source of umami that are used by cooks around the world. This fruit is used to produce Worcester sauce, tomato sauce, tomato paste, ketchup and chili sauce. Tomatoes have outstanding antioxidant properties and can also protect heart and bone health. Tomatoes are a good source of vitamin C and may protect against cancer and some neurological diseases.

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Umami Source: Mushrooms

Two types of mushrooms – shiitake and enokitake – provide umami. Shiitakes, which can be either fresh or dried, support both the immune and cardiovascular systems. These mushrooms also have antiviral and anticancer properties. Enokitakes (also known as enoki) are slender white mushrooms that have significant anticancer properties and also boost immunity.

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Umami Source: Parmesan Cheese

This popular hard cheese is a homemade Italian food that has a umami flavor created by glutamate crystals formed during maturation. This cheese is considered an optimal source of essential nutrients to protect bone health since it is rich in calcium. It also is easily digested and lactose free.

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Umami Source: Sardines

This source of umami is rich in vitamin B12, selenium, phosphorus and omega-3 fats.  Sardines also are a great source of protein, vitamin D and calcium. Eating these fish offers several health benefits, including heart and bone health. Researchers believe sardines, which are packed with protein, promote optimal health.

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Umami Source: Seaweed

This food, which includes kelp, wakame and nori, is a member of the algae family. It is a great source of antioxidants, calcium, iodine and vitamins A and C.  Additionally, seaweed can help regulate estrogen and estradiol levels, potentially lowering the risk of breast cancer. It also may help prevent inflammation.

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Umami Source: Green Tea

This source of umami is made from unfermented leaves that contain a high concentration of polyphenols, a powerful antioxidant. Green tea may help protect against free radicals that change cells, damage DNA and cause cell death. These free radicals are believed to contribute to the aging process and the development of cancer and heart disease.

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Umami Source: Bonito Flakes

Bonito is a type of tuna fish that is dried and often used in Japanese cooking. The flakes are hard as wood after drying and can be kept indefinitely. One study found that consuming dried-bonito broth regularly may improve your systolic blood pressure rate as well as lower oxidative stress levels.