Health Resources Library

The Five Tastes of Food

Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter and . . .

When we think of taste we most likely think back to that fun lesson in elementary school when the teacher taught us about the four flavors of taste; salty, sweet, sour and bitter.  These are tastes that have been recognized for thousands of years, only in the past decade has a new taste been recognized by western scientists.  The taste of umami.  This is a taste that has been known in eastern cultures for centuries.  We too have been  and has been enjoying the taste of umami but  are just learning how to recognize this “fifth taste.”

Just how do you put a name to a taste?

Umami was first coined in 1908 by chemist Kikunae Ikeda at Tokyo Imperial University.  Umami has been translated from Japanese to mean yummy, deliciousness, pleasant or savory.  But is best described as a savory flavor that comes from amino acids after fermentation or long slow cooking.  It is a pleasant “brothy” or “meaty” taste.  Some examples of umami flavor are; traditionally fermented soy sauce, bone broth, cured meats and cheese.  Even mushroom, tomatoes and asparagus are classified as being umami.

The Taste Map was Wrong?

Something else that we most likely learned in the lesson when we learned about taste was that different areas of our tongue have taste buds that detect certain tastes.  Science is now aware that this is not true.  A single taste bud contains between 10 and 50 sensory cells that represent all 5 taste sensations.  These sensory cells trigger action in neurons that lead back to the brain.  The brain then determines the taste that we are experiencing.

Eat all Five Tastes

In her book, “Live in Balance” Linda Prout explains how Ancient Eastern medicine also claims that eating food with balanced flavors are the most satisfying and nutritionally sound and will sustain health as well as balance emotions. So if our meals include some element of all five tastes we will leave the table feeling both happy and nourished.

The following is an example of a simple meal that contains all five tastes:  The classic Caesar Salad.  The sweet taste of a vine ripened tomato compliments the mildly bitter flavor of Romaine lettuce.  Mix up a some Caesar dressing that contains some elements of sour, salty and umami by adding balsamic vinegar, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, and anchovy paste or fish sauce.  Toss together and you have a delicious and nutritious lunch.

What did you eat today that included all 5 tastes?

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