Oyster and shiitake mushrooms add savoury umami to meals

The five basic tastes for humans are sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami. Oyster and shiitake mushrooms will help you become more familiar with that last taste.

Umami adds another depth to flavour with its savouriness and meaty taste. It lasts the longest out of the five tastes. It is found in many sauces as well, including ketchup and soy sauce, to balance and add complexity to meals.

The word “umami” comes from Japan when Dr. Kikuane Ikeda, a late professor at the University of Tokyo, first proposed umami as the fifth taste, according to his study, translated in 2002. He noticed a distinct savoury taste in meat, fish, and seaweed.

Ikeda analyzed the chemical components of dried seaweed to find the source of that taste. It turned out to be glutamate, an amino acid. Ikeda found out how to manufacture a seasoning involving glutamic acid, now known as MSG. Glutamate has a stronger taste than sugar and salt.

Oyster and shiitake mushrooms contain natural glutamic acid. Raw oysters loosely have about 0.63 grams of glutamic acid per 100 grams while raw shiitakes have 0.68 grams, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Cooked salmon can have about 3.3 grams per 100 grams for comparison.

Umami also usually signals to humans that food contains protein. A long chain of amino acids, including glutamate, creates protein, which is essential for maintaining and growing the body.

We recommend cooking or drying the mushrooms, which can enhance umami even more. While there’s no data for dried oysters, dried shiitakes have about 2.58 grams per 100 grams.

Disclaimer: Despite the references provided, the information on this page is for educational purposes only.

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