Umami may hold the key to breeding the perfect potato

December 27th, 2007 - 5:52 pm ICT by admin  

London, Dec 27 (ANI): Umami, a 100-year-old Japanese concept of flavour, might be the secret to help produce tastier potatoes, a new study has revealed.

Scientists at the Scottish Crop Research Institute (SCRI) at Invergowrie near Dundee have identified which compounds give potatoes their unique “umami” taste.

The research team believes that their findings could be used to produce new and tastier varieties of the tuber crop.

Umami has been scientifically established as one of the five individual tastes sensed by receptors on the tongue, together with salty, sweet, bitter and sour.

The concept has been used to explain why people experience a slightly savoury taste when they eat ripe tomatoes, parmesan cheese, cured ham, mushrooms, and various types of meat and fish.

“Umami is almost a savoury-like flavour and that is obviously considered to be important when it comes to judging the taste of a potato. It was certainly the case in our taste trials, the Scotsman quoted Dr Mark Taylor, the SCRI scientist who led the research, as saying.

“There was a suggestion back in the 1970s that umami was important for potato flavour, but there was never any evidence to back it up until we did our trials, he added.

The potato varieties, which are close to perfect, have higher levels of the compounds known to increase the umami flavour. These compounds are specific chemicals, which include some amino acids and “ribonucleotides” that are formed during cooking.

For the study, the research team conducted taste tests to compare traditional Solanum tuberosum varieties, including Montrose, Pentland Dell, Maris Piper and Record, which are widely grown in Scotland, with new, Andean-style varieties of so-called Phureja potatoes, which tend to be thinner and longer.

The new varieties tested included Mayan Gold and Inca Sun, which derive from the Peruvian homeland of the potato.

Researchers discovered that the Peruvian potatoes were close to the perfect, with more umami compounds.

“We found that the Phurejas always had more of the umami compounds and that there was a correlation with the taste-panel score,” said Dr Taylor.

“It is probably not the only story because the potato has a pretty complicated flavour, (but] it may be the key.

“Ultimately, we would like to know which genes control the process that leads to the formation of umami compounds and these genes could be used in breeding programmes to generate a tastier potato, he added. (ANI)

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