What is Umami?

Umami, which is also known as monosodium glutamate is one of the core fifth tastes including sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. Umami means “essence of deliciousness” in Japanese, and its taste is often described as the meaty, savory deliciousness that deepens flavor.

1. Umami is more than a buzz word

Five Basic Tastes Are Available

Umami is the core fifth taste. Scientists identified umami taste receptors on the human tongue in 2002 (alongside the sweet, sour, bitter, and salty taste buds). Meaning that umami is an inherent taste universally enjoyed.

2. Umami is found in our everyday food

Umami Substances

To get technical, umami is the taste of glutamate, an amino acid that is one of the building blocks of protein. Glutamate occurs naturally in the human body and in many delicious foods we eat every day, including, but certainly not limited to, aged cheeses, cured meats, tomatoes, mushrooms, salmon, steak, anchovies, green tea—and the list goes on.

3. Umami was discovered 110 years ago in Japan

What Is Umami Discovery

Umami was first identified by Japanese scientist Dr. Kikunae Ikeda. While enjoying a bowl of kelp broth called kombu dashi, he noticed that the savory flavor was distinct from the four basic tastes of sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. He named this additional taste “umami,” which literally means “essence of deliciousness” in Japanese. Dr. Ikeda eventually found the taste of umami was attributed to glutamate.

4. Umami has 3 distinct properties

What Is Umami Taste Characteristics
  • Umami taste spreads across the tongue

  • Umami lasts longer than other basic tastes

  • Umami provides a mouthwatering sensation

5. Umami is easy to achieve

Whether intentionally or unintentionally, we often add umami whenever it seems like something is missing in our food. Cooking with ingredients rich in glutamate will round out the flavors in any dish. Umami boosters great to stock your pantry with include ketchup, miso, truffle oil, ranch dressing, and soy sauce, to name a few. Proteins like pork, beef, fish, and shellfish make strong umami foundations and vegetables like tomatoes, mushrooms, and seaweeds are also high in glutamate (umami). And for the purest form of umami, sprinkle a dash of monosodium glutamate (MSG). Add any combination of these glutamate-rich ingredients and you’ve got an umami bomb!

Umami- The 5th Taste, Explained _ Partner with Food52

Salt reduction with umami

Umami can not only enrich our diet, but also contribute to solving global health issues. Sodium chloride, or table salt, is one of the leading causes of cardiovascular disease. The World Health Organization has established a goal of reducing average salt intake by 30%. The use of monosodium glutamate, or MSG, the main component of umami seasonings called AJI-NO-MOTO®, may be the key to reducing sodium content without sacrificing taste.

International recipes to enjoy umami

Nick Lee’s World Umami Cooking Competition winning recipe combined ingredients naturally rich in umami, such as kombu, Parmigiano Reggiano, tomatoes, and shiitake mushrooms. The dish reflected the influence of both Western and Eastern cultures.

Content you may like

Dr. Kikunae Ikeda Discoverer Of the Umami Taste

Who discovered umami and when was it discovered?

Umami was first identified by Japanese scientist Dr. Kikunae Ikeda in 1907. Dr. Kikunae found umami was made of glutamate, an amino acid that was ...

Fresh Spinach And Bell Peppers

How to Add Umami to Your Cooking

A happy and yummy meal is always one of the great reasons for that smile on your face. Relishing on a flavorsome meal, even after ...

Food With Mom

What are the 5 Basic Tastes?

5 basic tastes—sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami—are messages that tell us something about what we put into our mouth, so we can decide whether ...