Umami, Taste No. 5

Fast food pizzaAs we told you a while ago, when talking about fat, the sixth taste, the basic traditional tastes of a person are: sweetness, bitterness, sourness, saltiness.

Umami is also a basic taste.

It is in fact the fifth and it was discovered in 1908 by a Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda, which also patented the mass-production of monosodium glutamate (MSG), the most famous and controversial enhancer in the world.

Named Taste No 5, umami is apparently responsible for making any type of dish taste so fantastic and delicious that combined with other of the traditional tastes, can trigger the sensation of delight in our brain.

The word itself means ‘good taste’ in Japanese but is also often described as a ‘meaty’ or ‘savory’ taste.

But what makes umami so tasteful?

What’s the scientific explanation for this fact? This savory taste called umami is actually the taste of glutamate, the most abundant excitatory neurotransmitter of the body’s nervous system.The human tongue has specific receptors which can sense the presence of glutamate in certain types of food.

Glutamate, in its natural form, is most commonly found in meat (particularly bacon), poultry, eggs, dairy products, cheese, mushrooms, seafood, fish, wheat, ripe tomatoes, soy sauce and other protein rich foods, even in breast milk. So basically, we taste umami from the very first moment we are born.

Around year 2000, after umami was recognized in the west too, people have started to commercialize it more and more and use as an ingredient in restaurants, especially fast food ones.

However, umami is found on the market not quite under the natural form, but under the form of MSG, a food enhancer (E621). Although perfectly legal, doctors and nutritionists consider it responsible for obesity and other health problems.

To counteract this fact, Japanese researchers have argued that MSG is not harmful but in fact, it could actually reduce the risks of obesity.

Who should we believe in is under a considerable debate. One thing is for sure: umami can make any food taste delicious, making this ingredient one of the best sellers around the world.



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