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Umami Flavor: The story behind its discovery process

What is Umami flavor

Did you know that the Umami flavor is one of the five universal basic tastes? The Umami flavor has been part of multi-cultural diets for centuries. The unique, savory, and earthy flavor was discovered in 1908 by Dr. Kikunae Ikeda, a Japanese scientist who identified and isolated the sensory taste.

Umami, commonly referred to as the fifth taste, is a natural taste that comes from compounds found in meat and plants. Like other basic tastes like sweet, bitter, sour, and salty, Umami serves an important function in providing food quality and safety. The flavor alerts you to the presence of proteins and amino acids, which are important to your health.

What is the Umami flavor, and how was it discovered?

Food enthusiasts have embraced the Umami taste since the scientific community formally recognized it. But what exactly is Umami, and what makes it so unique?

Umami is a Japanese term that means the essence of deliciousness. The Umami flavor results from the presence of amino acids, specifically glutamate, which occurs naturally in the food you eat every day, such as plants and meats. Umami flavor is so distinct and exciting because its taste spreads across the tongue, providing a mouth-watering sensation, and it’s more savory than other basic tastes.

While the Umami flavor has been part of different cultural diets, it was officially recognized as the fifth basic taste because of the efforts of Japanese scientist Dr. Ikeda. Ikeda discovered the Umami flavor in 1907, which became part of the Japanese dishes soon after. Though widespread and accepted as an independent flavor in Asia, the flavor was recognized globally as a discernable taste in 1985.

What does Umami taste like?

Delicious, pure, savory, and meaty are some words used to describe the Umami flavor, commonly referred to as the fifth basic taste. Although the Umami taste has become popular in recent years, it has been part of different cultural diets for generations.

What are examples of Umami foods?

The term Umami is thrown around so often that it can be confusing. If you want to acquire ingredients with an Umami taste, search for foods that age and ripen naturally because they contain high levels of amino acids. The savory and rich meaty flavor is imparted by the presence of amino acids glutamate, which boosts the Umami taste. The riper an ingredient is, the more savory it’s likely to be. Examples of foods packed with Umami flavor include:

  • Mushrooms

Dried mushrooms have a high glutamate concentration, giving the dish a meaty, savory flavor. A mushroom stew is easy to make, and you can serve it with various dishes. Different types of mushrooms have varying concentrations of glutamate levels. For instance, shitake and porcini mushrooms have a strong Umami flavor. When Porcini, Shitake, and similar mushrooms are exposed to the sun, proteins break down into amino acids such as glutamate, producing a rich Umami flavor. Drying mushroom also increases nucleotide content in mushrooms which boosts their Umami flavor.

  • Soy-based ingredients

Fermented soybean products such as soy sauce, miso, and tofu have high glutamate content. Fermentation breaks down proteins into amino acids such as glutamate, which boosts the Umami flavor.

  • Green tea

While green tea has the basic bitter and sweet tastes, the Umami flavor dominates your taste buds. The addictive taste in green tea is imparted by the Umami flavor. Every 100 grams of dried green tea contains between 220 to 670 milligrams of glutamate. The presence of the amino acid Theanine also boosts Umami flavor by increasing Umami compound content.

Other common foods with high Umami content include:

  • Seaweed
  • Black olives
  • Tomatoes
  • Beef
  • Sweetcorn
  • Asparagus
  • Aged Cheeses

The five flavors of Umami

Umami taste is the latest addition to the universal basic tastes. It became the fifth taste alongside salty, bitter, sweet, and sour flavors.


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