Umami: Our fifth tastebud

That deliciously rich, savoury flavour mushrooms-lovers crave is called ‘umami’ (pronounced oo-maa-mee), and it’s widely known as the fifth basic taste - along with salty, bitter, sweet and sour. Rich and earthy, smoky and woody, it’s a unique taste that will carry through and enhance the flavour of your favourite dishes, or offer the perfect meat substitute.

Much of the umami flavour comes from natural glutamates, which link with a mushroom’s savoury smell to activate the brain’s neural pathways.

What is glutamate?

Not to be confused with gluten, glutamate is an amino acid - the building block of proteins. It occurs naturally in mushrooms as well as cheese, milk, meat, fish and some other vegetables. Glutamate is also produced by our bodies and is vital for metabolism and brain function.

The glutamate level in mushrooms increases as the mushroom matures from a button to a flat mushroom. That’s why portabellos have more flavour than small button mushrooms. When food has extra glutamate, its salt content can be reduced by 30-40%.

Is glutamate the same as MSG?

The natural glutamates in mushrooms are not to be confused with the monosodium glutamate (MSG) sometimes added to foods as a flavour enhancer. There is no MSG in mushrooms.