Umami – the fifth taste

Taken from the Japanese word meaning “delicious taste,” umami is used to describe some of the most delicious of foods – including soups, mushrooms, cheese, salad dressing and tomatoes. It’s often considered the fifth taste along with sweet, salty, sour and bitter and often applies to foods we consider to be savory. Somewhat similar to chefs the world over including a dash of sugar or salt to add more flavor to their dishes, a bit of yeast extract can add umami to many foods.

Single-celled microorganisms that quickly multiply through cell division, yeasts are easily found in nature and have been used for centuries to make food and drinks – most commonly to brew beer and bake bread. Yeast extract is created with when heat is applied to break down the yeast’s own enzymes and yeast protein into its components – amino acids and peptides. In otherwords, yeast extract is yeast without its cell wall.

Umami has a harmonizing affect. Rather than intensifying flavor, it takes the bite off of bitterness and boosts slightly saltiness. Oftentimes, umami is considered to be the taste of proteins and protein-rich foods.

“Umami is a savory, meaty taste that lingers for quite a long time and is characteristic of well-matured protein-rich products,” Professor Dürrschmid from the Institute of Food Science at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna said in a 2019 interview. “It takes the edge off bitterness and slightly increases saltiness, but otherwise has little impact on the basic taste varieties. However, when it comes to flavor, which differs from taste in that it is the summary perception of all the characteristics of a foodstuff in the mouth, umami-tasting substances have an intensifying and rounding off effect. This would explain the effect and popularity of yeast extract.”

Yeast extracts are also suitable for vegan and vegetarian recipes and the concentration of yeast extract in dishes is usually less than 1%. They also help to decrease sodium levels without a loss of flavor.