Taste is complex. There are 5 basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami. Umami is perhaps the most intriguing. In fact, some researchers separate it from the basic tastes and classify it an “alimentary” taste along with fat.1
Kikunae Ikeda identified this deliciously savory, “meaty” taste about 100 years ago,2 but umami is not actually a single taste. There are 3 key types of umami compounds: inosine-5’-monophosphate (IMP), guanylo-5’-monophosphate (GMP) and, the most well-known, monosodium glutamate (MSG).2 The tongue has taste receptors that detect these compounds.
Umami goes beyond taste. When detected, it may increase salivation, food palatability, and appetite, and it may play a role in boosting diet quality.2,3 Research suggests this novel taste’s potential may also enhance satiety.2
Top food sources of umami include Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, kelp, fish sauce, tomatoes, scallops, green peas, dry and fresh mushrooms, green tea, and most notably, fermented soybean products (including natto, tamari, tempeh, and miso).2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9
There are many ways to savor the umami flavor of soyfoods:
- Natto (fermented soybeans) heightens cuisine appeal when mixed with other ingredients. Stir natto with mayonnaise and mustard for a sassy sandwich condiment. Mash natto with avocado for Korean-style avocado toast.
- Tamari (soy sauce from fermented soybeans) adds zing to lunch-time Chinese takeout – but also try it at breakfast-time. Top steamed rice with a fried egg, scallions, and a generous splash of tamari. Serve oatmeal savory-style (like “ris-oat-o”) with asparagus tips, sesame seeds, and a drizzling of tamari.
- Tempeh (fermented soybean “cake”) mimics meat’s chewiness in stir-fries. Crumble and prepare it like ground meat for tacos, burritos, or chili.
- Miso (fermented soybean paste) can take basic soup, sauce, dip, or even mashed potatoes from plain to pow. Sneak a spoonful into brownie batter or cookie dough to bake up a wow-worthy dessert.
The bottom line: umami and soyfoods add intrigue to the plate and palate. The nutrients found in these soyfoods can offer bonus health benefits such as anti-diabetic, anti-neuroinflammatory, and serum cholesterol-lowering effects too.
- Hartley IE, Liem DG, Keast R. “Umami as an 'Alimentary' Taste. A New Perspective on Taste Classification.” Nutrients (Geelong, Australia). 16 Jan 2019; 11(1): 182, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6356469/
- Stańska K, Krzeski A; “The umami taste: from discovery to clinical use.” Polish Journal of Otolaryngology (Warsaw, Poland), 10 July 2016; 70 (4): 10-15, https://otolaryngologypl.com/resources/html/article/details?id=119656&language=en
- Yamaguchi S, Ninomiya K; “Umami and Food Palatability.” The Journal of Nutrition (Tokyo, Japan), 01 April 2000, 130 (4): 921S–926S, https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/130/4/921S/4686627?login=true
- FoodData Central, Natto, U.S. Department of Agriculture, accessed 10 July 2022 https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/172443/nutrients
- FoodData Central, Tamari, U.S. Department of Agriculture, accessed 10 July 2022 https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/174278/nutrients
- FoodData Central, Tempeh, U.S. Department of Agriculture, accessed 10 July 2022 https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/174272/nutrients
- FoodData Central, Miso, U.S. Department of Agriculture, accessed 10 July 2022 https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/172442/nutrients
- Hajeb P and Jinap S; “Umami Taste Components and Their Sources in Asian Foods,” Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition (Serdang, Selangor, Malaysia), 25 Nov 2014; 55 (6): 778-791, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10408398.2012.678422
- “Umami Information by Food, Green Tea,” Umami Information Center, https://www.umamiinfo.com/richfood/foodstuff/greentea.html