Health benefits of Umami

Various studies have shown that a high-salt intake is linked to hypertension, which is a key risk factor in cardiovascular and kidney diseases. Therefore, dietary guidelines recommend the reduction of salt intake, outlining that the major salt source comes from processed foods, condiments, and canned foods (Durack et al., 2008; He et al., 2014). According to research, using umami flavour in a low-salt diet promotes food palatability and can give bland food in depth flavour (Yamaguchi & Ninomiya, 2000).

In addition, our sense of taste and smell can be compromise due to the ageing process, environmental factors or due to other causes, using umami's flavour-enhancing characteristics to create intense flavours can therefore be good for meals served in hospitals and nursing homes for the elderly (Ninomiya, 2015; Pacheco Arnaiz & Khakim, n.d.; Yamamoto et al., 2009).

More recent research has shown that consuming umami-rich meals can help ease the severe condition of dry mouth in the elderly, since umami initiates salivation (Hodson & Linden, 2006; Satoh-Kuriwada et al., 2009).

Each taste is thought to fulfil an evolutionary purpose to either keep us away from poisonous or spoiled food or drawn us to energy-dense and nutritious food. Humans experience umami for the first time through the free amino acids in mother’s milk (breast milk) where glutamic acid exhibits the highest concentration in total amino acid as well as free amino acid contents. The free (unbound) glutamic acid in form of its salt glutamate is the main compound unleashing the umami taste (Ballard & Morrow, 2013; Csapó & Salamon, 2009). Thus, research so far has led to the conclusion that umami taste is important evolutionary to detect nutritious and protein-rich food which contains essential building blocks for our development and growth.

While glutamic acid is abundant in both plant and animal, the nucleotides 5’-inosinate is more abundant in meats and 5’-guanylate can be mainly found in plants and mushrooms, such as Shiitake mushrooms (Kurihara, 2015). Studies have shown that these molecules together with glutamate enables the so-called umami synergy, that intensify the umami taste up to eight times the intensity of these molecules in isolation (Kurihara, 2015; Schmidt et al., 2020). These findings suggest that we are evolutionary drawn to a high dietary diversity.

Generally speaking, the health benefits of umami is strongly dependent on the food we choose.