Savory foods often contain herbs, vegetables and peppers.

Adding umami to dairy products

While sensory scientists historically have recognized only four basic tastes — bitter, salty, sour and sweet — Japanese culture has long held the notion of a fifth taste referred to as umami. Today, food formulators acknowledge umami as a taste sensation that completes other flavors in a system while functioning as an overall flavor enhancer.

The fifth taste most notably comes from glutamate, the salt of the amino acid glutamic acid, which is naturally found in many foods, in particular, red, smoked and cured meats; vegetables and aged cheeses. The taste of umami is subtle, with most people unable to recognize it when encountered but missed when absent.

Savory foods often contain herbs, vegetables and peppers. When some of these ingredients are cooked, their inherent reducing sugars and amino acids undergo chemical modification through the Maillard reaction, resulting in caramelized and sautéed notes. Such vegetables as asparagus, garlic, mushrooms, onion and tomato all contain large amounts of glutamic acid, which further contributes to that umami sensation.