Besides the traditional four basic tastes sweet, sour, salty, and bitter, there is another taste called “umami”. “Umami” (Japanese for ‘delicious’) describes the taste of glutamate. Research carried out in taste physiology during the last 25 years has established “umami” as the fifth basic taste.
It is the naturally occurring “free” glutamate in Parmesan cheese, ripe tomatoes and mushrooms that gives these foods their distinctive flavours. This unique savory taste is an integral part of cuisines around the world. It is found in the bouillons of Europe, the oyster sauces of China, the soy and fish sauces of south-east Asia, the pizza and lasagna of Italy and the chowders and stews of America.
The “umami” taste plays a significant role in the choice, tastiness and acceptance of food. For example, people suffer from a decline in their perception of taste and smell as they get older and this may result in declining interest in food. As a result of decreased food intake these people may suffer from malnutrition. Studies have shown that, by increasing the flavour intensity of food, by including glutamate, the intake of foods, containing nutrients desirable from a nutritional point of view, is increased. Better nutrition is achieved as a result.