salty, umami and ‘Kokumi’ flavours

We delve into the science behind why 90% of Aussies eat cheese at least twice a week.

It’s no secret we’re all literally *obsessed* with cheese. There’s something about that salty, umami, rich flavour that makes us want to eat wheels and wheels of it.

In a recent Bega Cheese Brand study, it found that Australia’s biggest cheese lovers are Millennials, who had the greatest weekly spend, closely followed by Boomers.

Cheddar took home the title as our favourite type of cheese, but this was closely followed by Brie and Mozzarella. We love its texture (34%) the most including smoothness and crumbliness, followed by creaminess (27%), sharpness (24%), saltiness (6%) and smell (3%).

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Why do we get the feeling the copious laden cheese boards we down every weekend has something to do with our huge consumption as a nation (up to 14kg per person, per year)?

Professor Russell Keast, Head of Deakin’s CASS Food Research Centre, is an expert on all things ‘cheese’ and how its scientific composition and taste affect us as humans.

He says that something called ‘kokumi’ could be why we’ve got heart-eyes for anything cheese-related.

“The Kokumi substance enhances appetitive tastes – like sweet, salty and umami,” he explains.

“These naturally occurring γ-glutamyl peptides, which are produced during cheese production by microorganisms, enhance what we like in the cheese. However, outside of food the peptides have no or very little taste themselves.”

Professor Keast says that kokumi can enhance the complexity (thickness), mouthfulness, continuity and flavour length of foods. This is positive and may enhance the enjoyment of foods.

While research on kokumi is still just beginning, even that description makes us want to crack open a cheddar and pour a glass of our fave tipple.

“The area of Kokumi is in its infancy and there is a lot to learn,” says Keast. “When looking at Australians that enjoy eating cheese, Kokumi could contribute to increasing these positive mouthfeel attributes.”

While 14kg of cheese per person, per year, sounds like a whole lot of cheese, comparatively we’re still well below top cheese eating nations such as – surprise, surprise – France, which consumes close to 27kg per person, per year.

Cheese Master at Bega Cheese Brand, Dave Mellor, holds one of the most covetable jobs on the nation – being an expert in cheese. He’s tried thousands of cheeses over his decade-long career.

He says that our familiarity with cheese from a young age is one of the reasons why we can’t get enough of it later in life.

“We’ve grown up with cheese, as children eating Stringers on the playground and at home, melted in a bake. Then as we get older and our tastebuds mature we start to explore the different types of cheeses that the world has on offer – spanning vast flavours and textures,” he explains.

“It’s one of those foods that feels like it’s constantly evolving because we’re finding new ways to enjoy it!”

When it came to how cheese makes Aussies feel, over half of respondents (58%) in the research reported that cheese made them feel content or satisfied, with 19% citing happiness or joyfulness and 18% reporting feeling relaxed or calm.

That’s enough for us to be pairing brie and quince with a huge smile on our faces.

Cheers!