TURN'S OUT THERE'S a reason (other than seasonal greed) that we can't help ourselves from face-planting that cheese board, and umami – the savoury taste – is it.

Officially discovered just over a century ago by a Japanese scientist, it's actually something that's been known about since, well, since cavemen first cooked a wildebeest over a fire and said "Yum, these caramelised amino acids taste alright, you know."

Since then, a whole load of science has emerged about what umami really is (the taste imparted by glutamate that occurs in a host of foods including cooked meats, fish, seaweed, tomatoes and strong cheeses), and the benefits it imparts (everything from enhanced satiety to better digestion) but what it really boils down to is this: Umami is that mouth-coating, effortlessly moreish, sometimes entirely unidentifiable thing that makes you want to keep putting fork to mouth.

People mistake it for saltiness, but that's a one-dimensional taste. Umami has layers, depth; it can change its character throughout the course of a dish. It's the best mac n cheese you've ever eaten, a rich venison stew, mushy peas, that broad bean and pecorino dip from Waitrose you're certain is laced with crack it's so addictive. And no one knows how better to achieve it than chefs. Here's how they do it...

Chefs' umami secrets – in pictures