What is umami and how does yeast extract provide this flavour?


Yeast extract contains glutamic acid — an amino acid which elicits an umami taste. Although the term ‘umami’ was first coined in Japan by researcher Kikunae Ikeda, the distinctive taste of umami is found in dishes from across the globe.

But what exactly is umami? And why is it such a popular taste? In this blog, we’ll delve deeper into exactly how yeast extract provides this distinctive taste.

What is umami?

First discovered in 1908, umami can be translated as “delicious savoury taste”. This meaty and savoury flavour is often referred to as the ‘fifth taste’, alongside sweet, sour, salty and bitter.

Umami has three key characteristics which help to enhance complexity and satisfaction in dishes:

  • It provides longer-lasting flavour sensations
  • It has a modulating effect, masking bitterness and amplifying saltiness perception
  • It offers a mouthwatering sensation by stimulating the salivary glands.

Umami adds depth, richness and balance, rounding off the overall flavour without overwhelming other tastes.

What food products provide umami flavour?

There are a number of common food products that provide an umami flavour. These include:

Meats: Beef, pork, chicken, and lamb all naturally contain umami compounds, especially when aged or cooked using methods like grilling or roasting.

Seafood: Fish such as tuna, salmon, and mackerel are rich in umami, along with shellfish like shrimp, crab, and scallops.

Cheese: Parmesan cheese, aged cheddar and Gouda are all high in glutamic acid, providing a strong umami flavour.

Mushrooms: Shiitake, porcini, and other varieties of mushrooms are known for their rich umami taste, especially when sautéed or dried.

Tomatoes: Ripe tomatoes are rich in glutamate, giving them a sweet yet savoury taste. Concentrated tomato products like tomato paste and sun-dried tomatoes are even more umami-packed.

Soy Products: Soy sauce, miso paste, and fermented soybean products are traditional sources of umami flavour in Asian cuisine.

Fermented products: Kimchi, sauerkraut, and fermented soybean pastes contain high-levels of umami compounds due to the fermentation process.

How does yeast extract provide umami flavour? 

Like the foods listed above, yeast extracts also deliver an umami taste, thanks to the presence of glutamic acid. It’s this amino acid that is responsible for the umami taste sensation.

High-nucleotide yeast extracts are an effective and versatile way to provide that long-lasting, complex umami taste to savoury products and sweet preparations even when added at extremely low levels.

OHLY® FLAV-R-MAX, OHLY® FLAV-R-MAX 19, OHLY® FLAV-R-OUND LS and PROVESTA® 512 are just some of the yeast extracts we supply that bring umami to food applications.

What are the benefits of using yeast extract for umami flavour?

Yeast extracts are a natural and label-friendly alternative to using artificial additives, such as monosodium glutamate (MSG).  

Whether it’s to mask unwanted off-notes, to enhance the taste of food or to improve mouthfeel, yeast extract provides a versatile solution. The complexity and depth of the umami taste helps to round off flavours, creating a balanced and well-rounded culinary experience.

Umami flavours, brought out by yeast extract, improve the overall palatability of foods, bringing complexity to the product. And it’s not just about the taste. With its long-lasting flavour sensations and ability to stimulate the salivary glands, umami helps to create mouthwatering, juicy and fatty sensations, making yeast extracts ideal for vegan solutions. 

As well as being useful for plant-based foods, umami also has a role to play in modulating taste and balancing flavours to help food manufacturers reduce sugar or salt without compromising on taste.

What is umami flavour used for?

Ingredients that bring umami to a dish or product fulfil a variety of different functions: 

For flavour enhancement: Umami adds depth, richness and complexity to the taste of foods, making them more flavourful. Savoury and meaty flavours can really be enhanced with the addition of umami.  

To balance flavours: Umami helps modulate, balance and round out the taste of dishes by complementing other taste sensations, such as sweet, sour, salty and bitter.

For vegan alternatives: Umami-rich ingredients like mushrooms, soy sauce and yeast extract are often used to provide a savoury meaty fasteas substitutes for meat in vegetarian and vegan cooking to provide a savoury and meaty taste.

Masking unwanted off-notes: Rich umami flavours can help to mask the bitter, beany off-notes sometimes present in plant proteins and also in the high-instensity sweeteners used to create low-sugar products. . likefound within low-salt, low-sugar or meat-free products.

Providing satisfaction: By stimulating the salivary glands, umami can create a mouthwatering sensation, making food feel more satisfying to eat. This is particularly useful important for for meat-free alternatives, enabling that fatty, juicy texture to still be provided.

To find out more about our yeast-based ingredients and the benefits they offer, get in touch today