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Umami: the fifth taste

Discover what umami is and practise your reading skills.

In an afternoon speaking class, the students were talking about food and sharing recipes from their own countries. They were talking about the different tastes of food: “this dish is quite sour”; “these desserts are very sweet”; “this soup is often salty”, and one of the students used the word “umami”: “I love the umami flavour of mushrooms.” But what is umami?

Read the text about umami and put the 10 missing food words into gaps

gravy   soup   bacon   recipe   flavour   sauce   salty   pasta   vegetables   cheese

Read any article on food, ________ book, or blog about the latest dishes and restaurants and you will come across the word ‘umami’. We are all used to reading and using the taste words of ________, sweet, sour, bitter and now we have gained a fifth word to describe a sensation in our mouth: umami. Do you put parmesan on your ________? Do you love to pour _______ on your Sunday roast? Do you put tomato sauce onto fried ________? Is Marmite your mate? Do you love the smell of frying onions? If the answer to these questions is ’yes’ then you know and love the fifth taste of umami. Umami is a Japanese word that means ‘deliciousness’ and was first researched in 1908 by a university-based chemist called Kikunae Ikeda. Ikeda first noticed the taste umami in ________ like asparagus, in tomatoes (which are, in fact, a fruit) and then went on to discover its existence in dairy products like ________, and in roasted meat. He also found umami in dashi – a stock made from kombu (a type of seaweed) which is widely used in Japanese ________. Human milk is also one of the highest MSG-containing mammalian milks. Eventually, Ikeda learnt how to make umami in the laboratory and patented it as MSG – a ________ enhancer used by restaurants all over the world. So, what is it about umami that makes food taste so good? In terms of pure chemistry, umami comes from glutamates and a group of chemicals called ribonucleotides. When you combine ingredients that contain these different umami-giving compounds, they enhance one another and give dish even more flavour. That’s why an Italian Bolognese ________ made from fried beef, cooked beef, cooked tomato and parmesan cheese is so wonderfully tasty.

Umami: the fifth taste. English blog post.

Answers

Read any article on food, recipe book, or blog about the latest dishes and restaurants and you will come across the word ‘umami’. We are all used to reading and using the taste words of salty, sweet, sour, bitter and now we have gained a fifth word to describe a sensation in our mouth: umami. Do you put parmesan on your pasta? Do you love to pour gravy on your Sunday roast? Do you put tomato sauce onto fried bacon? Is Marmite your mate? Do you love the smell of frying onions? If the answer to these questions is ’yes’ then you know and love the fifth taste of umami. Umami is a Japanese word that means ‘deliciousness’ and was first researched in 1908 by a university-based chemist called Kikunae Ikeda. Ikeda first noticed the taste umami in vegetables like asparagus, in tomatoes (which are, in fact, a fruit) and then went on to discover its existence in dairy products like cheese, and in roasted meat. He also found umami in dashi – a stock made from kombu (a type of seaweed) which is widely used in Japanese soup. Human milk is also one of the highest MSG-containing mammalian milks. Eventually, Ikeda learnt how to make umami in the laboratory and patented it as MSG – a flavour enhancer used by restaurants all over the world. So, what is it about umami that makes food taste so good? In terms of pure chemistry, umami comes from glutamates and a group of chemicals called ribonucleotides. When you combine ingredients that contain these different umami-giving compounds, they enhance one another and give dish even more flavour. That’s why an Italian Bolognese sauce made from fried beef, cooked beef, cooked tomato and parmesan cheese is so wonderfully tasty.

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