Photo from: Taste of Japan
The word umami is being thrown around all the time nowadays… but what actually is it?
Umami is the “fifth flavour” on top of the other ones we know: sweet, salty, sour and bitter. Umami was named by a Japanese man named Kikunae Ikeda in 1907. He was a chemist at Tokyo Imperial University.
He noticed a flavour which he couldn’t quite describe in a common meal constituent in Japan known as dashi. He was able to isolate the chemicals giving this flavour (L-glutamate) and then named it umami — umai meaning delicious and mi meaning taste.
The flavour umami is the underlying “meaty” taste to foods. Not only in meats but also seafood, cheeses and fermented foods. The flavour gives depth to meals.
Later on, Shintaro Kodama and Akita Kuninaka found other foods which contained the chemicals of umami. Furthermore, Kuninaka found that the umami flavour was ameliorated by the synergy between ribonucleotides and L-glutamate. This discovery allowed chemical enhancements and adjustments to be made to the flavour.
More recently it was discovered that we have specific receptors which respond to umami. This discovery gave umami its official place alongside the four other known basic tastes.