Umami is not only a topic of special interest in the culinary world; research into the medical benefits of umami is also making rapid progress. New scientific findings show that this taste plays a positive role in nutrition and hence in the health of the elderly.
According to recent research carried out by scientists from the University of Tohoku in Sendai, Japan, there is a correlation between the ability to taste umami and the nutritional status of elderly people. In a small-scale study comprising 44 elderly patients, the scientists succeeded in demonstrating that loss of the ability to perceive umami goes hand in hand with loss in appetite and weight, which ultimately leads to poor general health.
The study findings suggest that illnesses predominantly occurring in elderly patients and side effects of medication taken by such patients may trigger disturbances in taste perception and decreased salivation. Saliva is essential for releasing the taste from food and transporting it to the taste receptors. Once salivation in the probands had been improved, their sense of taste and ability to perceive umami also increased. As a result, the probands regained their appetite, and their overall state of health improved. The study shows that dishes containing umami are stronger tasting and can induce elderly people to eat more regularly, thus ultimately leading to better general health.
It is already an established fact that the umami taste sensation plays a role in identifying the nutritional content of foodstuffs. Furthermore, new research findings suggest that umami taste receptors are also found in the gut. This may be an indication that they contribute to regulating digestion and hence to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It is now intended to repeat the study with a higher number of probands in order to substantiate the research findings.
The original study can be viewed at: http://www.flavourjournal.com/content/4/1/10.