top of page

Umami taste as a component of healthy diets

The little talked about taste buds, but briefly it can be said its that part of food that makes bitter into tastier food.


Interest in it possibly originated from Japan as researchers found that Japanese traditional food is healthier both for longtivity and good overall health.

The Japanese dietary pattern traditionally known as washoku (a traditional dietary culture of Japan) is not the only one that lowers the risk of all causes of morbidity and mortality, but it is the only one that includes a specific taste as part of its traditional heritage: the umami taste. The guiding principles of washoku, designated a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage in 2013, explain that the basic structure of a customary Japanese meal includes a distinctive flavor that results from the combination in the mouth of the taste, smell, and the tactile sensation of each ingredient (Ninomiya, 2016). The core flavor of many Japanese recipes is the umami taste from dashi soup stock. The extraction of umami substances when preparing the stock from traditional ingredients—dried kelp, dried bonito, or dried shiitake mushrooms—in combination with such products as vinegar, miso, or soy sauce intensifies the flavor of seasonal and fresh local ingredients (Kumakura, 2015). The style of eating small portions of a large variety of seasonal foods, including fish and abundant vegetables, and the effective use of umami taste seem to be the basic elements that promote positive health outcomes from washoku (San Gabriel et al., 2018).

According to the WHO (2019), Japan has the longest average life expectancy in the world, which has been partially attributed to the Japanese dietary pattern. Assessed as the Japanese Dietary Index, the Japanese dietary pattern has been associated with a lower risk of all causes of death and of cardiovascular and heart disease mortality (Abe et al., 2020; Matsuyama et al., 2021). A higher adherence to this diet was associated with a longer life and longer disability-free survival (Abe et al., 2020; Zhang et al., 2019). Experts have known for some time that evaluating dietary patterns, in which foods are eaten in combination, rather than listing foods in isolation, gives better guidance for diet quality (Reedy et al., 2014). Common foods in the Japanese dietary pattern, such as seaweeds, fish, green and yellow vegetables, and green tea, contain myriad beneficial nutrients and phytochemicals, which are suspected to have a cumulative effect.

The sensory cues of foods before, during, and after eating direct our selection of foods and are at the center of palatability. Smell and taste drive palatability, depending on our hedonic evaluation of food. But while orthonasal exposure to odors through the nose combined with retronasal odors arising from the mouth provides cues about the food itself in anticipation of eating, taste seems to play a clearer role in sensing nutrients during and after ingestion of foods (Boesveldt & de Graaf, 2017). Often cited as the “nutritional gatekeeper” of the body, the sense of taste has a prominent role in voluntary food ingestion because it helps us choose what to consume and how efficiently these foods will be digested and metabolized (Breslin, 2013).

Initially it was thought and sold as monosodium glutamate (MSG) is the element but now it accepted its more than that, its smell, but functional brain imaging shows that the combination of MSG with a consonant savory smell such as a vegetable odor induces higher signals of pleasantness in brain cortical regions where taste and olfactory signals converge. Thus, some describe umami as a “rich and delicious flavor” (McCabe & Rolls, 2007). In fact, among the five basic tastes, the savory umami taste of the amino acids glutamate and aspartate in combination with 5′-ribonucleotides is one of the tastes we perceive as pleasant in a food context, and these umami compounds are widespread among many of the foods we eat daily (Breslin, 2013; Ninomiya, 1998).

In the case of umami taste, human psychophysical studies have shown that umami substances appear to suppress the bitterness of various compounds (Keast & Breslin, 2003; Keast & Breslin, 2002; Kemp & Beauchamp, 1994; Yamaguchi, 1998). In vitro assays revealed that MSG, inosine 5′-monophosphate (IMP), L-theanine, and umami peptides behave as antagonists of various bitter taste receptors, such as the salicin bitter taste receptor hTAS2R16 and the caffeine receptors hTAS2R43 and hTAS2R46, also confirmed psychophysically (Kim et al., 20152017). But the potency to suppress bitterness does not seem to correlate to umami intensity, since each compound interacts differently with bitter taste receptors (Kim et al., 2015; Rhyu et al., 2020). Another bitter taste receptor significantly inhibited by umami compounds is hTAS2R14 (Okuno et al., 2020), the receptor activated by the tea catechins (−)-epigallocatechin gallate and (−)-epicatechin gallate, which are partly responsible for the bitterness of tea (Yamazaki et al., 2013), and by several phenolic compounds from extra virgin olive oil (Cui et al., 2021), whose bitterness indicates the presence of phenolic compounds.


In India Amla is considered to posses all tastes but going beyond that we have pickles, chutneys, and spices.

Spices have always been used to mask the bitterness of chilies and any one who has seen Wazwan, there are foods which literary make you nose run as fountain, and eyes drop lot of liquids but the food is cherished. In fact, as child I remember the smell of food in kitchen will literarily bring salvia in mouth and increase the appetite just by smell.

In fact, lot of people complain food is bland if we do not use spices. Possibly reason was my friends in white coats will read in magazines Mediterranean diet is good and sadly I had to counter my ENT specialist, if I listen to your advice, I will live a very unpleasant life and that is not what I intend to live for.  And that proved very good for my own well fare.  

38 views0 comments


bottom of page