The Art of Enhancing Umami Flavors

Sit down at an eatery or open the pantry door at home. The question at hand: what do I want to eat? For many, tastebuds crave adventure. Maybe they crave comfort food with enriched flavor. Or perhaps something new and exotic. The solution: enhance those taste sensations with umami.

Other than being a fun word to pronounce, umami is the fifth taste sense after salt, sweet, bitter and sour. The term means “delicious flavor” in Japanese and is often described as savory – delivering and elevating the richness of a dish.


Pass the umami, please


Bringing umami to the table isn’t new but science has only recently recognized its existence. Researchers concluded that tastebuds for “sweet” are found at the tip of the tongue, “bitter” at the back, and “umami” receptors are spread throughout the surface.

Optimizing taste with umami is common. Alone, it does not have a pleasant taste – when combined with other ingredients it intensifies or balances flavors for a richer, juicier, and deliciously lingering taste.

We find naturally occurring umami in foods like meat, mushrooms, and aged cheese. Spaghetti with meat sauce, mushrooms and parmesan cheese sprinkled on top – umami delight!

Using umami is a great way to cut down on salt and sugar in cooking. Only a small amount of salt is needed to greatly heighten flavor in combination with umami. The same goes with sugar, small amounts in the presence of umami flavors can cut bitterness and round out or soften other flavors.


The science of umami


Ever put a dash of salt on a fresh tomato slice? The result is a naturally enhanced umami flavor. That’s because tomatoes are a natural umami-based food. Roasting them further intensifies their umami flavor.

Why? Glutamate. Our bodies use this amino acid for metabolism and nervous system functioning. Human milk has been found to be one of the highest mammalian milks to contain glutamate.

Simply put, when this amino acid is released in food, it causes our umami receptors to squeal in delight. And while our tastebuds dance, the glutamate also produces transmitters that help us relax and stabilize our mood.

Craving umami? Your body may be telling you it needs more protein or glutamate. So feed that craving with a bowl of Miso soup or caramelized portabella mushrooms – it’s science.


Sources of umami


High-protein foods are often a source of umami – but the key to unlocking the umami flavor is to release glutamate. Raw meat is not umami. But slow cook an expensive steak to release glutamate and – voila – umami!

Umami is also released with fermentation, which makes soy sauce, cured meat and aged cheeses excellent flavor-enhancing ingredients.

The vegetable patch is an excellent source of umami-based foods like mushrooms, sweet corn and cherry tomatoes. Sea kelp is another.

There are high-quality manufactured umami products as well, such as pastes, powders, stocks  and seasonings that can easily be added to meals meant for the dinner table or feeding large crowds.

The art of enhancing flavor with umami can be creative or simple as you make it. Taste-testers won’t be disappointed when they find their old go-to meal enriched with flavor or an exotic new meal to add to their favorites.

We can help. KerrySelect delivers depth and deliciousness of umami ingredients for savory products, meat applications and plant-based proteins.

Contact us to find out more.