Umami – Secrets of the Fifth Taste

In the West, we have identified the four basic tastes of sour, sweet, salty, and bitter found in many delicious foods.  Yet in many parts of East Asia over the past century, the additional flavor of umami is recognised.  It is a “secret” fifth taste impression that is savory, complex, and wholly distinct.  Japanese for “delicious taste,” umami is produced by certain amino acids.

The tongue can sense five distinct types of tastes: Bitter, sour, salty, sweet and umami.
The tongue can sense five distinct types of tastes: Bitter, sour, salty, sweet and umami.

Umami can be found in abundance in Jamon Iberico, which is part of its unique appeal.  It’s also in soup stocks, shellfish, aged cheeses (like manchego), mushrooms, and ripe tomatoes and when used in cooking it can enhance other taste substances to produce a transformative gustatory experience.  In other words, if you add Jamon to recipes, it makes the others tastes in the dish go BOOM!

In AUSTRALIA, Umami can be found in abundance in VEGEMITE.  Vegemite is Australia’s most famous food spread.  It is a concentration of left over brewer’s yeast with added spices and vegetable extracts. It is a rich source of B vitamins and has a strong salt, of course Umami taste.

Researchers have also discovered which substances in foodstuffs bring out umami, a breakthrough that allows any casual cook to prepare delicious and more nutritious meals with less fat, salt, and sugar. The implications of harnessing umami are both sensuous and social, enabling us to become more intimate with the subtleties of human taste while making better food choices for ourselves and our families.

Umami in Jamon

Techniques for curing jamon have been found to be ideal for eliciting umami flavours.  Conserving meats often changes them beyond recognition while increasing the umami content – It sometimes takes a while for people to acquire a taste for this change.

The practice of salting, air drying and curing ham in Spain, like the Jamon iberico de bellota imported by Spanish Deli, is based on traditional practices going back centuries.  When fully cured, the Jamon has about 50 times the glutamate as it started out with and has become a virtual Umami bomb of complex, nutty, buttery, earthy and floral flavours.

Yep – Jamon Iberico de Bellota is now scientifically the bomb!