We all know pizza is the best thing on the planet, but what exactly makes it so delicious?
Thanks to years of painstakingly fun research, we can definitively explain why we develop cravings that only a slice can satisfy.
Next time a precocious 5-year-old (or a redditor on r/ExplainLikeImFive) asks you, “Why is pizza so good?,” you’ll be prepared with a well-thought out answer:
Pizza is an underrated umami bomb.
Research shows that delectability of pizza can be largely attributed to its umami characteristics. “Umami” is much more than a popular buzzword of the past decade – it’s a scientifically recognized flavor profile with more than 100 years of data behind it.
“Umami” was discovered by chemistry professor Kikunae Ikeda in 1908. While eating a bowl of miso soup, Ikeda realized that he was enjoying a flavor that could not be attributed to the four known categories of taste: sour, salty, sweet, or bitter.
After further inspection, Ikeda came to realize that kombu, a type of kelp used to make the dashi stock, imparted a deeply meaty flavor upon the soup, despite the absence of meat in the dish.
Ultimately, this was proven to be a common link between certain types of foods, including tomatoes, cured meats, and certain types of cheese!
The secret is in the sauce.
A proper pizza sauce can pack a serious punch of umami goodness. As the heroes at the Umami Information Center explain, the humble tomato is a force to be reckoned with:
“Of the many plant foods that provide umami in western tradition, the tomato is foremost. Its attractive, full, rounded ‘meaty’ flavour comes from its heavy load of glutamates, and this flavor is reinforced by its unique crimson color, the color of blood which is the very essence of animal life. The umami theme remains constant, though the way it is expressed varies from culture to culture.”
Is the cheese umami too?
Short answer: Yes.
Slightly longer answer: It depends.
You may be surprised to learn that mozzarella cheese, the most common pizza cheese, does not offer a ton of umami flavor. While mozzarella is delicious, it is a younger cheese, and the more mature cheeses are the ones that tend to really pack an umami wallop.
You know what is a mature cheese? Parmesan! And, odds are, it’s already on your pizza.
Pizza crust can also have umami characteristics.
Some pizzerias will age their dough over the course of multiple days through the process of cold fermentation. The cold fermentation process doesn’t just fortify the texture of the crust – it also subtly enhances the flavor of the dough, which is yet another reason why pizza is so good.
Has all this pizza talk put you in the mood for a pie?
Order now on Slice to get the umami flavor you crave from your favorite local pizzerias.
— Zach Links is an L.A.-based sports journalist who is equally concerned with the outcome of the game and what he’ll be eating at halftime. In addition to serving as a staff writer for The Sauce, he’s also the lead writer and editor of ProFootballRumors.com. You can follow him on Twitter @ZachLinks and on Instagram @FatZachLinks.