The Elusive Umami: Although it was discovered a century ago, umami still struggles for acceptance as the fifth basic taste the tongue recognizes. The term is Japanese for "savory" or "deliciousness." It is typically applied to meats, cheeses, broth and other protein-heavy foods to describe their hearty nature. The sensation may be more subtle than salty or sweet, but researchers maintain it is unique and not a combination of any of the other basic tastes. Image: Nick Rotondo
- Resarchers have discovered tiny compounds that make foods taste sweeter, saltier and more savory than they really are, which could reduce the sugar, salt and monosodium glutamate typically added.
- Several of these taste enhancers are being tested in commercial foods.
- Whether people will consume fewer calories if their foods become tastier remains to be seen; people might eat lots of sweet foods for reasons that have nothing to do with taste.
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Humans are hardwired to love the sweet, savory and salty foods that provide the energy, protein and electrolytes we need. In an age of mass-produced products laden with sugar and salt, however, our taste proclivities can readily bring on obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes—all among society’s biggest health problems.
But what if a handful of tiny compounds could fool our brains into eating differently? That is the idea behind the new science of flavor modulation. Scientists who have unlocked the long-standing mystery of taste biology are developing inexpensive yet potent compounds that make foods taste sweeter, saltier and more savory (heartier) than they really are. By adding tiny amounts of these modulators to traditional foods, manufacturers could reduce the amount of sugar, salt and monosodium glutamate (MSG) needed to satisfy, resulting in healthier products.
This article was originally published with the title Magnifying Taste.