Umami. Glutamates and nucleotides. DNA and RNA. And why meat and soy sauce go so well together.
Why do soy sauce and meat go so well together? Because meat can turn soy sauce on!
Soy sauce contains sodium chloride (NaCl i.e. table salt) that can make our meat juicier and taste sweeter (read all about how salt does all this in the 1-Minute NomNom “It’s i(r)onic that NaCl makes meat juicier” and “As-salt on sweet pineapples“).
But the real kick comes from soy sauce’s umami flavors. Umami is the fifth primary taste (the others being sweet, sour, salty, bitter), and is used to describe a unique delicious savory sensation.
This sensation is trigged by umami taste receptors on our tongue when they detect the glutamates found in soy sauce. Glutamates are amino acids, and on their own, they have…
“a relatively weak umami taste. But when tasted in combination with… nucleotides… the sensation of umami is greatly magnified… When glutamates and nucleotides are present at equal levels in food the strength of umami taste is as much as 20 to 30 times greater than glutamates alone.” (Source: Cook’s Illustrated – The Science of Good Cooking)
Where do these amazing nucleotides come from? Nucleotides are “chemical compounds, [and] the building blocks of the nucleic acids RNA and DNA“. Because they “make up the genetic material (DNA and RNA) of all living things“, they are found in the foods we eat. Such as a piece of meat.
Nucleotides play an important stabilization role. Without them, even though the umami taste receptors are turned “on” by the glutamates, this “on” state is not a stable state. This could result in a relatively weak umami sensation.When nucleotides are present however, they stabilize the “on” state, thus magnifying the umami taste. According to Cook’s Illustrated, nucleotides do this by “altering the shape of the glutamate receptors” so that they have a better fit with the glutamates. This is what gives us a stronger umami sensation.
And so soy sauce goes soy well with meat because the meat’s nucleotides keep the umami taste receptors for soy sauce’s glutamates turned “on”. I was not kidding, right?
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photos: in order – depositphotos/Kesu01; karandaev; ramirezom; designer491; Grounder; akulamatiau