salty and sour are what we all learned as the four basic tastes. Now
a fifth element of taste has been identified called umami. Umami is the
Japanese word for "delicious" or "savory" but is regarded as broth-like or
meaty tasting in Western cultures. The umami taste is most common in Asian
foods, soups and stews, mushrooms, tomatoes and aged meats and cheeses.
The most direct way most Americans have experienced this taste is in
sautéed mushrooms as glutamate is abundant in all mushrooms. Other
glutamate-rich foods include tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, soy sauce, bonito
flakes, and kelp.|
The umami taste is conveyed by several substances naturally occurring
in foods, including glutamate, better known in the west as monosodium
glutamate (MSG). The artful use of umami can make mediocre fare taste
better and good food taste great. It's sometimes associated with a feeling
of perfect quality in a taste, or of some special emotional circumstance
in which a taste is experienced. It is also said to involve all the
senses, not just that of taste.
The following history is courtesy of Linda Stradley and her web site What's Cooking America at http://whatscookingamerica.net .
Umami was first identified by Oriental cooks over 1200 years ago.
It wasn't until the turn of 20th century that scientist's
isolated glutamate and other substances, which convey this distinctive
flavor. In 1908, Kikunae Ikeda of the Tokyo Imperial University identified
it. Professor Ikeda found that glutamate had a distinctive taste,
different from sweet, sour, bitter and salty, and he named it "umami".