The story of umami might make you wonder, are there other basic tastes out there that we just haven’t gotten around to noticing? Some researchers believe we may have a sixth basic taste for fat . There are some good candidates for fat receptors in the tongue, and it is clear that the body responds strongly to fat’s presence in food.
However, by the time fat levels are high enough that we can actually taste them consciously, we tend not to like the flavor very much. So the question becomes, can something be a basic taste if we don’t really taste it, per se? How much of taste is about encouraging or discouraging us to eat something, and how much of it is the body, unbeknownst to us, keeping track of what’s coming down the chute?
Further deepening the mystery of flavor, Japanese scientists have introduced the idea of kokumi to the wider world. “Kokumi means a taste that cannot be expressed by the five basic tastes, and also includes marginal tastes of the basic tastes, such as thickness, growth (or mouthfullness), continuity, and harmony,” reads the site of the Umami Information Center (UIC), a group for the promotion of umami research. Triggered by a trio of linked amino acids, the kokumi sensation adds to the pleasure of certain kinds of foods, most of them savory.
Harold McGee, the food writer, had a chance to try some kokumi-inducing preparations of tomato sauce and cheese-flavored potato chips at the Umami Summit in San Francisco under the auspices of the UIC. He wrote , in terms that pique the imagination of anyone curious about new taste sensations:
“The flavors seemed amplified and balanced, as if the volume control and had been turned up and an equaliser turned on. They also seemed somehow to cling to my mouth – a tactile feeling – and to last longer before fading away. ”
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