Umami could be crucial to health in elderly people, researchers say. An individual’s response to the elusive ‘fifth’ taste (after sweet, salty, sour and bitter) could offer vital clues to that person’s general physical condition, according to a study performed by Tohoku University and published in Flavour.

The team claims that in tests subjects showing reduced specific sensitivity to umami – which is experienced through glutamate receptors and is associated with savoury pleasure – complained of appetite and weight loss, resulting in poor overall health.

The researchers also showed that hyposalivation diminished hypogeusia (a reduced ability to taste things), indicating that the reflex was essential to taste itself.