Umami: The Fifth Taste

I like the healthy food that I eat to have maximum flavour; it is not necessary to sacrifice satisfaction or pleasure for health. I want to be excited about eating all along the way. From concept, when I think about what to eat; to the inspirational trip to the farmer's market; the experience of preparation; to the visual; aromatic;  and taste sensations. 

After salty, sweet, sour, and bitter, umami is the fifth basic taste. It can best be described as a rich and delicious savoury taste that is fully rounded, pleasant, and satisfying. It enhances and gives depth, intensity, and complexity to food. Umami depends on the addition of salt to be fully realized.  

Piquance is a sixth basic taste used to describe strong, sharp, pungent, spicy, and hot smells and tastes.

For helpful information, please visit HEALTH COACH: 

Cheesy Green Chile 
and Potato Chowder
3 poblano peppers
1 large yellow onion, small diced
1 green bell pepper, small diced
3 russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 stalks celery, small diced
3 slices bacon
2 t minced garlic
1 quart chicken broth
2 t salt
2 c milk
1/4 c flour
1/2 c Mexican blend cheese (plus additional for serving)
thinly sliced green onions 

First, fire roast the peppers.

To do this, place poblano peppers right over the flame on your burner if you have a gas stove. Flip occasionally until every inch of the pepper is charred. If you don’t have a gas stove, place peppers underneath the broiler on a lined sheet tray (also flipping occasionally) until charred. Once charred all around, immediately remove peppers from heat and put them in a paper bag, for 20 minutes, until cooled, then remove charred skin with the back of a knife and roughly chop up peppers.

While your peppers are cooling, fry the bacon in a large dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot. Fry until crispy then remove bacon from the pot and drain on pepper towels. Keep grease in the pot!

Add your onion, bell pepper, garlic and celery to the hot grease. Saute for about six minutes over medium heat until veggies are just tender. Add cubed potatoes to the pot, as well as the poblano peppers, and toss well so everything is combined.

Pour in chicken broth and add the salt. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for about 35 minutes until potatoes are very tender. Add milk and sprinkle in flour. Whisk together so that no flour clumps remain and bring back to a simmer. Simmer for another 10 minutes.

Turn off heat completely and add cheese to the pot. Stir well so cheese melts. Serve immediately with crumbled bacon, sliced green onions and additional cheese. 
Serves 4-6 
Eat, Live, Run

How We Experience Food

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All taste buds on the tongue and other regions of the mouth can detect umami taste independently of their location. The tongue map in which different tastes are attributed to specific regions of the tongue is a common misconception. 

Umami aroma and taste have appetizing benefits to the elderly and the medicated who have reduced appetite, sense of smell and taste and are at increased risk of poor nutrition and consequently, disease.

The Mushroom Melt
1 T butter
1 T olive oil
1 small onion, sliced
8 ounces Cremini mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 t thyme, chopped
1/4 c white wine or broth
salt and pepper to taste
1 T parsley, chopped
2 t truffle oil (optional)
1 c fontina or gruyere, shredded
1/4 c parmigiano reggiano, grated
4 slices bread
2 T butter 

Melt the butter and heat the oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until tender, about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme and saute until fragrant, about a minutes.

Add the mushrooms and saute until the start to caramelized and turn golden brown, about 10-15 minutes. Add the wine, deglaze the pan and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated.

Season with salt and pepper, add the parsley and remove from heat and let cool a bit. 
Mix the cheese into the mushrooms.

Butter one side of each slice of bread and place 2 in the pan buttered side down. 
Top each with 1/2 of the mushroom mixture and finally the remaining slices of bread with the buttered side up.

Grill until the cheese has melted and the bread is golden brown, about 2-4 minutes per side. 
Servings: 2 Sandwiches
Closet Cooking

Potato-Stuffed Poblanos with Shrimp
4 poblano peppers
3 c Garlic Mashed Potatoes
fresh corn kernels (from 2 ears of corn
1 small zucchini, diced
1 ½ c shredded
mexican-blend cheese
¼ c fresh cilantro, chopped
¼ t ground cumin
2 large fresh tomatoes, diced, preferably heirloom (or 2 15 oz.
cans fire-roasted tomatoes)
½ medium white onion, diced
1 chipotle pepper, minced
2 T adobo sauce, divided (from can of chipotle peppers)
¾ t kosher salt
3 garlic cloves, crushed
juice of 1 lime
2 T olive oil
24 large shrimp, peeled and deveined (approx. 1 pound)

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Cut peppers in half lengthwise. Remove seeds and veins; set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine potatoes, corn, zucchini, ½ cup of the cheese, cilantro and cumin. Spoon potato mixture evenly into the peppers (mixture should mound high, not be flush with peppers). Set aside.

In a separate bowl, mix together tomatoes, white onion, 1 T of adobo sauce and salt. Place mixture into bottom of 13×9 baking dish. Nestle filled peppers into mixture.

Combine garlic cloves, lime juice, remaining 1 T adobo sauce and olive oil in a large, resealable plastic bag or shallow baking dish. Add shrimp, toss to coat and place in refrigerator.

Place peppers in oven and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle peppers with remaining shredded cheese and place back in oven for 10 minutes, or until cheese is melted and lightly browned.

Meanwhile, remove shrimp from refrigerator. Drain excess liquid and place shrimp onto sheet pan. Roast shrimp alongside peppers for approximately 5 minutes or until shrimp are cooked through (you can time this so both peppers and shrimp are removed from the oven at the same time).

Place one stuffed pepper onto plate, top with some tomato mixture from bottom of pan and 3 large shrimp. Garnish with fresh chopped cilantro, if desired.

The Wicked Noodle 

Umami Around The World

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There are recognized foods, food combinations, and preparation methods that create higher values of umami. Onions, leeks, celery, garlic, herbs, mushrooms, carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, cabbage, asparagus, spinach, parmesan cheese, eggs,  olives, seaweed, meat, poultry, fish, seafood, anchovies, balsamic vinegar, sauerkraut, worcestershire sauce, fish sauce, marmite, ketchup, soy sauce, wine and Japanese green tea contain some of the highest amounts of umami. 

Food that is aged, cured, fermented and dried creates increased umami. Roasting and sautéing release and enhance umami. Asian and Mediterranean food is  appealing because of their higher umami values.

Roast Tomato and Basil Soup
4 - 400g cans of whole, peeled tomatoes
2 T balsamic vinegar
2 T olive oil
1 tsp salt 
2 red onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 t tomato paste
2 T soy sauce
1.5 litres vegetable or chicken stock
100ml cream
Salt & pepper to taste
Fresh basil leaves, to serve

Preheat the oven to 200°c.

Place the tinned tomatoes and all of their juices in a roasting tray and add the Balsamic, olive oil, sugar and salt. Stir to combine and place in the oven for 25-30 minutes until the tomatoes are broken down and have started caramelizing slightly.

In a large pot, sauté the onions in some olive oil until they are translucent and fragrant. Add the garlic and fry for another minute.

Add the roasted tomatoes, tomato paste, soy sauce and sugar. Stir to combine all the ingredients and pour in the stock.
Lower the heat and cover the pot. Allow to simmer for 10 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat and blend the soup.

Add the cream and season to taste. Garnish with fresh basil leaves.
Serves 6-8

The Best Veggie Burger Ever

1 package of Gimmie Lean, ground beef style
1 cup of cooked brown rice
1/2 small onion, diced
The pulp of 1 large beet after juicing
Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbs Olive Oil, for cooking 

Combine the Gimmie Lean, rice, onion, and beet pulp in a large bowl and stir until it is all very well incorporated.

Coat the patties with a thin layer of the Worcestershire sauce.
Add the oil to a pan and heat it up on the stove. Fry the patties on both sides. Add more oil if needed.

Serve on a toasted bun with grilled pineapple, ripe avocado, red pepper, lettuce, sauteed onion, and condiments you like on your burger. Servings: 5-6 Burgers  V.K. Rees Photography

About Umami

The word umami is derived from the Japanese umai - delicious, and mi - taste and was named by Professor Kikunae Ikeda, a chemist, who discovered and defined Umami in 1908, after pondering the deliciousness of Dashi broth composed of seaweed. Long before that, in the 1800s, Auguste Escoffier, a renowned French chef invented a broth that made him famous for its umami properties.
In 1985, umami was officially recognized as the scientific term to describe the taste of the naturally occurring amino acid L-glutamate and ribonucleotides (inosinate comes primarily from meats and guanylate from vegetables) by specialized receptor cells on the human tongue. Glutamic acid is one of the 20-22 proteinogenic amino acids and they occur naturally in many foods. These amino acids break down in the cooking process to create L-glutamate which gives food umami character. Professor Ikeda then patented a method of mass-producing a crystalline salt of glutamic acid, monosodium glutamate. 


Monosodium Glutamate
Labeled MSG, autolyzed yeast extract, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, meat tenderizer, accent, or simply as spices; monosodium glutamate is probably the food additive that is the most difficult to avoid. 
The variety of names can be confusing, and this amino acid is added to almost all savoury, processed, and packaged food. 

MSG is a substance called an excito-toxin. This substance disturbs neurological pathways, is addictive, affects our saiety response and increases the insulin production of the pancreas and causes obesity. MSG has also been linked to headaches, migraines, diabetes, autism, ADHD,  and alzheimers disease.

Chef Alex Svenne

Thank you for taking the time to talk with HEALTH COACH to share your mastery of Umami. Let's get started.

1. When I think of Umami, I think of your food. The tantalizing aromas alert the senses at the Bistro threshold. Please reveal to us the secret of creating your stimulating Umami flavours and tastes. 

If I reveal the secret, you wouldn't have to come here for dinner  anymore.  I think Umami is the most subtle of the flavours and hardest to pinpoint. I feel it is allowed to come forward when all the other flavours are in balance.

2. Is cooking method as important as ingredients? What are your favorite Umami methods and ingredients? 

I believe when it comes to Umami, the cooking method is more important than the ingredients. Although some ingredients are recognized for having the Umami taste, mushrooms, dark soy sauce, I think that flavour really comes forward in how food is cooked. White bread has no umami, toast does.  A well browned piece of meat, for example, has beautiful umami flavours.

3. You have many worldly culinary adventures. Please share with us your most memorable Umami experience. 
Umami certainly is a memorable taste experience.The master of umami is Susur Lee. When enjoying a 7 course dinner at Susur,  you could really taste his mastery of all the flavours including Umami. 

4.  What are your thoughts on the sixth taste, piquance? 

I don't really think Piquance is a taste. I just think it is a physical reaction to the heat caused by capsein and other oils or feelings created by acidity or other agressive ingredients.

5. What are some of your latest Umami experiments and favorite recipes? 

Our veal cheek bourguignon is a veritable umami party, with the mushrooms, smoky bacon and well roasted veal cheeks braised in a rich red wine reduction. I also believe that a perfectly seared piece of foie gras is an umami celebration.



Part Five. How to Take Care of Your Immune System and Reduce Your Risk of Disease.

The Easiest and Cheapest Health Care

Your body is always working to detoxify itself from metabolic waste created in the course of normal physiological function and to cleanse itself of external chemical pollutants and contaminants. Metabolic detoxification is a normal, healthy physiological function necessary for well being. Your body is perfectly equipped to do this work efficiently. It is unhealthy habits, neglect of the basic health habits and the increase of chemicals in our environment, homes and food that places an unbearable burden on our natural system of cleansing.

The Basic Health Habits: sleep, digestive health and nutrition, breathing, hydration, physical activity, positive mental attitude, sweating and sunshine are the best way to immune system health, disease prevention and essential for the detoxification of the body. Long term neglect of Basic Health Habits impair this lifesaving, health-promoting function. When our body is overwhelmed by toxic material and contaminants and deprived of the essentials to function normally, favourable conditions for disease and harrowing medical intervention are created.

There are natural detoxification products available to facilitate a deep cleanse but they are pointless, wasted and may even be dangerous if not preceded and supported by Basic Health Habits

How Does Our Body Detoxify?

The liver is the main detoxifying organ involved in metabolic detoxification. The liver inactivates and filters chemicals, harmful substances, drugs and hormones as well as dead and damaged cells in the bloodstream and eliminates these waste products through the gastrointestinal tract, kidneys, lungs, lymph and the skin.

Signs That The Liver Needs Detoxification
An overload of toxins can leave the liver overworked and exhausted, allowing toxic and waste material to remain in the blood and body, causing symptoms such as hormone imbalances, fatigue and weakening the immune system. Physical symptoms such as allergies, indigestion, bloating, skin damage, aging and spots, eye problems (spots, red or watery eyes), headaches, hot flushes, insomnia, PMS, muscular pain, head pain and neck tension can occur.

The Liver Produces Bile, Important For Digestion
The liver is a major blood reservoir, filtering over 1.4 liters of blood per minute, which it receives from two sources: the hepatic artery which delivers oxygenated blood from general circulation and the hepatic portal vein which delivers de-oxygenated blood from the small intestine.

The liver also plays an important role in fat, carbohydrate and protein metabolism and in vitamin and mineral storage. Each day it manufactures and secretes almost a liter of bile, which is necessary for the absorption of fat-soluble material from the intestines, including many vitamins.

Foods to Eat for Liver Health 

There are certain foods that help to protect and detoxify the liver itself so that it can perform better to detox the entire body:

  • Apples contain pectin which helps to bind and excrete heavy metals right off the intestines. This directly helps to reduce the load of filtration on the liver.
  • Beets, carrots, red onions and aubergine contains flavonoids and beta-carotene which are potent antioxidants.
  • Garlic contains allicin, an antioxidant and the mineral selenium. It assists the removal of heavy metals from the liver.
  • Eggs, brown rice and whole grains, broccoli and spinach contain B-complex vitamins which improve liver function and promote liver decongestion. Vitamin B12 helps to metabolize fats and improves liver health.
  • Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and lettuce contain glucosinolates which help the liver produce enzymes for detoxification.
  • Grapefruit is rich in antioxidants and help in natural detoxification of liver.
  • Bitter vegetables such as bitter gourd, dandelion greens, mustard greens and chicory promote the production and flow of bile.

Many factors determine whether the liver performs its critical functions well. Neglect of basic health habits, medical treatments, pharmaceutical medications, surgery, unhealthy fats, processed food, environmental stresses, overwork or emotional stress, and unhealthy addictions can cause liver overload or malfunction, leading to a decreased ability to clear toxins and hormones and manufacture bile. Foods which contain high levels of antioxidants help to protect the liver and keep it healthy while other foods cleanse the liver.

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Liver Detox Herbs  
Herbal elixirs, containing combinations of the listed herbs, support liver function and are available at health markets: Milk Thistle - Dandelion Root - Astragalus - Artichoke - Liquorice Root - Black Walnut Hulls - Chamomile - Turmeric - Neem - Chicory
Liver Detox Vegetables
Vegetables are a rich source of minerals and vitamins essential for normal organ function, and are necessary to maintain a healthy digestive system. Vegetables also contain antioxidants that help in detoxifying the liver of harmful toxins. Organically cultivated vegetables are always recommended: Asparagus - Spinach  - Broccoli - Eggplant - Green Peas- -Green Beans - Spirulina - Garlic - Carrot - Whole Beets - Spinach - Yam - Brussels Sprouts - Cauliflower - Tomatoes - Cabbage - Arugula - Wheatgrass - Kale

Liver Detox Fruits
Consumption of fresh fruit is one of the best ways to detox your liver. Fruit is a paragon of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals and regular intake of fruit prevents liver congestion by lowering the level of cholesterol. Fruit also improves the circulation of blood in the liver. Organically cultivated fruit is always recommended: Pomegranates - Acari berries - Grapes - Papayas - Cherries - Avocado - Blueberries - Blackberries - Cranberries - Grapefruit - Black Cherries - Bananas - Lemon - Peaches - Pears - Kiwi -Apples

Some More Liver Detox Foods
Apart from fruits, vegetables and herbs there are many more foods that can support your liver detoxification functions. They are also rich in vital nutrients and aid in releasing harmful toxins from body: Chlorella - Asparagus - Flax seeds - Sesame seeds - Hemp - Walnuts - Pumpkin seeds - Sunflower seeds - Oregano - Green tea - Olives - Caraway oil - Brown rice - Yogurt - Chickpeas - Oats - Mung beans

Green Tea 
Benefits of improved metabolic detoxification
  • Healthier environment for cells
  • All physiological functions improve
  • Reduce toxicity and risk of disease in the body
  • Reduce and eliminate allergies
  • Improve digestion and nutrient assimilation
  • Reduce and eliminate pain and inflammation
  • Lower cholesterol
  • Improved hormone metabolism
  • Reform addictions

Is it Time to Detox? 
Symptoms that you may be experiencing if you are overdue for a cleanse:
  • Frequent fatigue
  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Sleep disturbances 
  • Low energy
  • Depression
  • Flatulence, gas and bloating (also at issue: food combining, see Part Two: Nutrition)
  • Excess weight
  • Food allergies
  • Decreased libido
  • Impaired digestion
  • Irritability, mood swings
  • Bad breath and foul-smelling stools
  • Parasites in stool
  • Frequent colds
  • Recurring headaches
  • Chronic constipation
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Protruding belly
  • Powerful food cravings
  • Skin problems, rashes, acne etc.
  • Impaired wound healing 
  • Metallic taste in mouth
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Mental fog
  • Inflamed joints
  • Physical aches and pains 


Simple ways to start cleansing your body
  • Increase Basic Health Habits
  • Reduce and eliminate unhealthy habits
  • Eat organic
  • Physical activity 
  • Reduce and eliminate processed and refined foods from your diet
  • Reduce high fat dairy, unhealthy fats and meat 
  • Increase water intake
  • Fresh air 
  • Eat more fresh vegetables and fruit 
  • Increase the fiber in your diet 
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Green tea 
  • Drink fresh-squeezed lemon water
  • Broccoli and cabbage aid liver function
  • Fruit
  • Seaweed and kelp
  • Sweat
  • Sleep 

Food additives to avoid

Artificial sweeteners and high fructose corn syrup
Most artificial sweeteners contain aspartame, a carcinogenic substance known to induce migraines, headaches, dizziness and seizures.  Other popular artificial sweeteners contain saccharin, a substance that could be linked to bladder cancer, or Acesulfame-K, which is linked to kidney tumors. Evidence that artificial sugars contribute to weight gain have been revealed in recent research.
High fructose corn syrup can contribute to liver disease, raise cholesterol levels and can lead to leptin resistance. When leptin doesn’t function properly, you continuously feel hungry, no matter how much you eat. HFCS can also be contaminated with mercury and lead, adding to your toxic burden and have been linked to metabolic syndrome.  

Monosodium glutamate
Labeled MSG, autolyzed yeast extract, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, meat tenderizer, accent or simply as spices, monosodium glutamate is probably the food additive that is the most difficult to avoid. Not only the variety of names can be confusing, this amino acid is added to almost any savory packaged foods. MSG is a substance called an excito-toxin. This substance disturbs neurological pathways, is addictive, affects our saiety response and increases the insulin production of the pancreas and causes obesity. MSG has also been linked to headaches, migraines, diabetes, autism, ADHD,  and alzheimer’s disease.

Propylene glycol
Propylene glycol is a viscous substance that is used to enhance texture in liquids. Known to be linked to cancer, it is still used as a carrier for artificial flavors in an array of drinks and dressings.

Hydrogenated oils
Oils that have been hydrogenated are transformed into trans fat, the kind of fat that leads to heart disease, LDL (bad) cholesterol and cancer. 

Food dyes

Artificial colorings found in candies, fruit drinks and dressings, have been linked to developmental and behavioral problems in children and to cancer development.

Used to preserve foods, sulfites are among major food allergens. Sulfites have been linked to asthma, and can lead to headaches, skin rashes and respiratory complications.
Found in: wine (white wine contains a higher percentage of added and naturally occurring sulfites compared to red wine), dried fruits, cured meats.

Sodium nitrite/nitrate
Found mostly in processed meat, sodium nitrite and nitrate are used as a preservative. Several research have linked nitrate to cancer, but it’s still commonly used in food products.

Used to preserve color and flavor, BHA and BHT are used in a variety of processed foods. Those substances can disturb the neurological function, alter behavior and cause cancer.


A toxin is a poisonous substance produced within living cells or organisms; man-made substances created by artificial processes are therefore excluded. Toxins vary greatly in their severity, ranging from usually minor and acute (a bee sting) to almost immediately deadly snake venom or botulinum toxin.