What are the 5 basic tastes?
We were taught as kids that there were four major tastes (sweet, sour, bitter and salty). But there is this mystery flavor that nobody had a name for it yet. There were certain foods like a well cooked and season steak or a very dense broth that you tasted that didn’t fit into either of the four major taste groups. Until a Japanese chemist dubbed the taste Umami which is a combination of umai(delicious) and mi(taste). Thus, Umami was born and is described as pleasant savory taste.
The secret to Umami is the chemical component that produces the savory flavor. Glutamate- also known as MSG. MSG had a good run during the 80s and early 90s until reports of people claiming to have reactions to MSG surfaced. These range from Headache, sweating, nausea and a host of other reactions. However, researchers have discovered no link between MSG and these symptoms therefore it was considered as “generally recognized as safe” for consumption.
Aside from glutamate, it was discovered that another set of compounds trigger that umami effect and these are Nucleotides. Found in a lot of foods but mostly predominant in shellfish, pork and mushrooms. Nucleotides actually magnify the foods rich in glutamates like chicken, tomatoes and cheese.
Armed with this knowledge, chefs are now making full use of this flavor to make very popular dishes. Gordon Ramsay’s signature dish- Beef Wellington is packed with umami rich ingredients( Beef tenderloin, Mushrooms, Prosciutto). Noma- considered the best restaurant in the world also uses umami-rich ingredients like seaweed and incorporate those in the full course menu.
In the baking world. Pastry chefs and bakers are now starting to realize the potential of Umami in cooking. In a realm where sweet is the dominant force in cooking. Bakers are now experimenting with this flavor to delight the ever-expanding palates of their diners.
I hope all you aspiring bakers out there would experiment more and who knows, you might come up with your own-umami rich signature dish.
Hope you enjoyed this installment of our bi-weekly blog posts.Leave us a comment or check out our blog if you want more articles like these or if you have any feedback to what we have just written.
The Bailiwick Team