Yeast extract evokes a hearty taste similar to that of a broth or stock. This is due to the proteins, amino acids, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals mineral nutrients that the yeast extract contains. The unique taste is a familiar and popular component of regional and traditional cuisine all over the world, and is generally associated with high-protein dishes. The taste is present in many culinary specialities such as seasoning pastes and sauces made from soy, fish or other seafood, but also in a wide range of European dishes such as lasagne or a goulash with peas.
The particular taste imparted by yeast extract is nowadays recognised by scientists as the fifth taste alongside sweet, sour, salty and bitter and is called ‘umami’. Translated literally, umami means ‘savoury’, and it is also associated with a distinctive depth of taste. A hearty broth or a dish finished off with a dash of soy sauce have an ‘umami’ taste. The same applies for all high-protein foodstuffs such as meat, cheese and pulses. In lasagne there are many ingredients naturally rich in glutamate which add to the “umami” taste: in addition to minced meat and parmesan cheese, this also includes ripe tomatoes. The common factor in all of these foods is the natural amino acid, glutamic acid. On average, yeast extract contains around five per cent glutamate.
Glutamate is naturally produced by enzyme activity in the maturation process of foods and is therefore found in a very wide range of foodstuffs. Even the human body itself produces the amino acid as proteins are broken down; with food intake, on average a further ten to twenty grams are added. This is how there is also glutamate in saliva – and even in breast milk – which is why we become familiar with the umami taste as early as infancy. This confirms the important role of umami in our diets: the taste indicates the amount of protein contained within a particular foodstuff.