Umami is the fifth basic taste after sweet, salty, bitter and sour.
Derived from the Japanese word umami, meaning “delicious,” umami (pronounced oo-MAH-mee) is described as a savory, brothy, rich or meaty taste sensation. To scientists, umami indicates a high level of glutamate, an amino acid and building block of protein. To chefs and food lovers, it’s a satisfying sense of deep, complete flavor, balancing savory flavors and full-bodied taste with distinctive qualities of aroma and mouthfeel. Foods like mushrooms, tomatoes, Parmesan cheese and green tea are rich in umami.
Why Umami is Important
- Flavor enhancement: The more umami present in food, the more ﬂavorful it will be.
- Enhances satisfaction: Umami creates both appetite appeal and satiety, the feeling of being gratiﬁed to the fullest extent.
- Less salt use: Umami counterbalances saltiness and allows up to a 50 percent salt reduction without compromising ﬂavor.
- Brings out the best: Umami highlights sweetness and lessens bitterness.
Umami and Mushrooms
All mushrooms are a rich source of umami and the darker the mushroom the more umami it contains. Widely available mushrooms with the most umami:
- White button
Dried mushrooms tend to have more umami than fresh ones, and cooked mushrooms are more umami-rich than raw. This means that adding mushrooms in virtually any form—raw, sautéed, whole cap garnish, even a dusting of dried powder—will add an umami lift to foods.
Flavor-Enhancing Properties of Mushrooms
A new study from the Culinary Institute of America and University of California-Davis, published in the Journal of Food Science, explored the flavor-enhancing properties of mushrooms and found that blending finely chopped mushrooms with ground meat enhances flavor and nutrition.
The study, Flavor-Enhancing Properties of Mushrooms in Meat-Based Dishes in Which Sodium Has Been Reduced and Meat Has Been Partially Substituted with Mushrooms, conducted by University of California Davis (UC Davis) and the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) was published in the Journal of Food Science. Chef-instructors from the CIA developed eight test recipes, including recipes featuring the mushroom blend technique of adding finely chopped mushrooms to beef, and a CIA registered dietitian performed nutrition analyses on the recipe.
This proof-of-concept sensory study provides the basis for how mushrooms and meat can combine for healthier alternatives to iconic American dishes. As the study shows, a traditional ground meat recipe prepared with 50 percent mushrooms and 50 percent meat (or even 80 percent mushrooms and 20 percent meat) can:
- Reduce calorie, fat and sodium intake, while adding nutrients like vitamin D, potassium*, b-vitamins and antioxidants
- Enhance the overall flavor, because of double the impact of umami
- Maintain flavor while reducing sodium intake by 25 percent