As a chef instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education in NYC, teaching students to understand how flavors work was always the most fun. We discuss the basic flavor groups: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, spicy and umami.
Umami was always the most difficult flavor for students to understand. It does not translate well into English and it can be the hardest flavor to develop.
We describe it as "deep, earthy flavor" and find it in ingredients such as soy sauce, parmesan cheese and mushrooms. It is the flavor that makes you want to eat more.
This flavor is found in fermented foods as well and adds depth and richness as to your preparations.
Balance of course is the key. One flavor element does not make a great dish, but the combination of multiple flavors, or elements with different flavors makes all the difference.
Fermented foods are a great addition, because they have the umami element as well as some other flavor as well, briny, sour and or spicy, which broaden the flavor profile and make your guests want more.
As always, live cultured foods add the extra benefit of lactobacillus, which aids in digestion and gut health.