You know about the four basic tastes: sweetness, sourness, bitterness and saltiness. Even if that list doesn't roll off of your tongue, you can certainly imagine how each of these tastes flavors your mouth.
Well, it turns out there is fifth taste, called Umami
. Umami was first isolated by Japanese chemists Kikunae Ikeda in 1908, yet only recently has the concept of umami made it out of Asia.
The chances are that you are already a big fan of umami but just don't know it yet. That's what happened to Carolyn Cope, who now runs a blog called Umami Girl.
"I'd always known that I liked foods that were a little funky -- certain aged cheeses, cured meats, mushrooms, anchovies," Cope told Asylum. "Shortly after college I got really into sushi. Like, really into it. Just when I was starting to seriously wonder whether my favorite sushi rolls were laced with some illicit, addictive substance, I learned about umami, the taste that literally stimulates the brain's pleasure centers."
Read on to learn about what foods contain umami.
The taste is also strong in Parmesan cheese, ripe tomatoes, prosciutto, Worcestershire sauce, asparagus, and -- the ultimate crowd pleaser -- bacon. As the flavor's popularity grows, restaurants like Umami Burger
in California have harnessed it in burgers, ketchup and even an umami cocktail.
A few months ago an umami paste -- which is made from naturally umami rich ingredients -- was introduced in England
. It is not yet available in the United States, and Cope isn't necessarily counting the days. "It strikes me as a little on the faddish side," she told us. "I would tend to just use those whole ingredients in my cooking. I'm sure it will be popular, though, and I think it's great that it's helping to make people more aware of umami."
Here's why you should be aware of umami: It makes just about anything you eat taste better. Ikeda, who discovered umami, also patented the notorious flavor enhancer MSG, which essentially acts as a chemical umami
So with a little bit of knowledge about which foods naturally contain the fifth taste
, you can get the same hard-to-put-your-finger-on sensation that makes Chinese food so addictive without any of the annoying headaches and bathroom dashes.