The popularity of yeast extract has a lot to do with its strong characteristic taste. This is also known as the umami taste and is similar to the hearty taste of a homemade bouillon.
What is umami?
Humans recognise five basic tastes – sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. Umami is often known as the “fifth” taste and is a Japanese term that translates approximately as “tasty”. Umami is a meaty, savoury taste that lingers for quite a long time and is characteristic of well-matured protein-rich products. Umami doesn’t have an intensifying effect, but a modulating one: it takes the edge off bitterness and slightly increases saltiness, but otherwise has little impact on the basic taste varieties.
Cooking with umami-tasting ingredients
Ingredients that give dishes an umami taste are not just used in traditional Japanese cooking, like for example in soy sauce or dried fish. The requirement for the savoury umami taste can be observed worldwide in different cooking traditions, whether it is spaghetti bolognese with Parmesan cheese or a hearty stew with meat and vegetables.
Why our bodies crave umami-flavoured dishes
We love the taste of umami because it indicates “protein-rich” foods just as sweet indicates “energy-rich” foods and “bitter” indicates “toxic” foods. Proteins are made up of amino acids which are vital for life and help us to stay healthy.
By maintaining a protein-rich diet we contribute to enable our bodies to maintain cell growth and repairing cells. Muscles, organs and tissues – their major components are proteins. In addition, proteins are vital for processes like digestion, metabolism, the transportation of nutrients and oxygen to blood as well as the production of anti-bodies. Umami can be considered as the taste of proteins and protein-rich foods.