(Y)umami – the Sixth Basic Taste?

The other day, I had one of the most intense Lemon Tarts I’ve ever eaten.

This Lemon Tart, in fact

Made by the chef at The Field Kitchen Oxford, it was so amazingly tangy that it felt like the taps in my mouth had turned on, flooding my tongue with saliva.

It wasn’t just delicious: it was POW!

It pressed my buttons so well that my jaw almost ached.

Weird, I thought, as I savoured the feeling. I’m not normally that keen on Lemon Tarts. There must be some kind of unusual ingredient at play

But when I asked for the recipe’s secrets there was nothing out of the ordinary: lemon, sugar, butter, eggs, cream – all the usual suspects.

Still, it got me thinking. The intense mouth-watering properties of this particular Tart reminded me of something. And that something was Umami.

For those of you who haven’t heard of it before, I’ll just give you a brief low-down: identified in the  as one of the basic tastes (along with sweet, salty, sour and bitter), Umami’s the name for a particular savoury flavour, often described as meaty.

It’s the taste you get in foods like Parmesan, Mushrooms and certain Seaweeds (allegedly Breast Milk too): a satisfying, long-lasting flavour, which, when balanced with the right amount of salt (and I’m quoting Wikipedia here) ‘induces salivation and a sensation of furriness on the tongue, stimulating the throat, the roof and the back of the mouth’.

Just, in fact, what this Tart had done to me.

Racking my brain for other pudding-based examples, I didn’t come up with all that much. Certain Salt Caramel products sprang to mind – Paul A. Young’s Salt Caramel Truffles being the strongest contender. Classic Cinnabon buns had the same effect too.

For each of these sweet treats there had been salt involved (in the butter, caramel or otherwise), and, as with the Lemon Tart, my mouth had been prickled and dowsed with drool.

Even now, as I write this, the memories are helping to bathe my tongue. Like magic, it is – the makers of these goodies are like wizards performing their spells. Simple ingredients turned into something marvellous.

Could it be that they’ve managed to harness a new basic taste? Umami’s non-savoury counterpart? A reason why some desserts hit the spot, while others just aren’t quite right?

Sadly I don’t have the test tubes or know-how to work that one out as yet. I’ve an inkling that certain food gurus (Heston Blumenthal for one) might have at least some idea – but they’re probably far too engrossed in their own special potions. Far be it for me to distract them from such valuable work.

What I do now have, however, is the urge to track down more examples.

At last I have the ultimate excuse. It’s for Science, I’ll say, as I stuff my chops full of more pudding. You can’t stand in the way of Science now, can you?

Certainly not, my Ogglers.

This is a new dawn.

This is the age of (Y)umami.