Umami: The Elusive 5th Taste

umami.jpgTake a bite of that savoury meat, cheese or tomato…is it yummy? It’s not sweet, right? Not sour? Not bitter? Not salty? None of the four accepted tastes, yet somehow so very delicious. Welcome to the world of umami, the elusive fifth element of taste – and my favourite. Protein foods rich in amino acids are often described as umami, so named by Japanese Professor Kikunae Ikeda in 1907.

In fact, it was the pursuit of this new taste “umami” that Ikeda stumbled upon the natural seasoning momosodium glutamate (MSG) made from crystals of glutamic acid (glutamate) found in kombu broth made from a type of seaweed. An interesting fact to note the next time you are out with someone who claims thay are “allergic to MSG” is that glutamate, the key component of MSG, is actually not an allergen at all, but a neurotransmitter which stimulate nerve cells (like taste buds) in the mouth. It’s true some people can develop sensitivity to it, but the funny belly they experience may be more related to the type or quality of food they eaten. In fact, many “no MSG” restaurants still use glutamate compunds as flavour enhancers. For more information, you can check out these interesting articles about umami and MSG.


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