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Umami: The Quintessence of Taste


Pasta, umami and Japanese beautiful woman

A delicious slice of mouth-filling pizza, a satisfying tuna sashimi serving, a big bite of ripe, juicy peach.

What these foods have all in common though is that they taste delicious — no matter how they range in the four basic taste categories of sweetness, bitterness, sourness or saltiness.

The Fifth Taste

In Japan, how food tastes is commonly described by whether it has lots of, not enough of or needs more umami (deliciousness).

Umami is the taste we commonly describe as savory, mouth-filling, satisfying, rich — or just simply delicious.

The word umami (うま味) is a combination of two words: "umai" (うまい) meaning excellent or good, and "mi" (味) meaning taste.

Umami is the pleasant taste of ripe fruits, cheeses, aged meat and other savory foods, which cannot be described as any of the four basic tastes.

Recognition in the West

The idea of an umami "fifth taste" wasn’t commonly accepted in the West until late 20th century.

Scientific research has finally identified unique receptors on the tongue which could detect substances found in all savory foods called glutamate (Glutamic Amino Acid, or GAA for short).

Today, master chefs all over the world routinely use umami-rich ingredients such as kombu and togarashi among many others, to enhance and amp up their dishes.

The Chemistry of Taste

The pleasant tastiness of delicious food is caused by the interaction of glutamates found in savory foods and human body's specialized glutamate taste receptors. These glutamates that are referred to as umami. 

The pleasant taste sensation is initiated by our tongue's glutamate taste receptors, with subsequent steps resulting in secretion of serotonin. This secretion is interpreted by the brain as the satisfying sensation of eating delicious food.

The Lasting Sensation of Delicious Foods

Recent scientific discovery suggests that just like the tongue, the stomach (as well as intestine and the pancreas) also contain glutamate taste receptors.

These receptors continue to detect the glutamates found in savory foods — long after they have been chewed and passed down.

In turn, these receptors relay the savory information to the brain, causing continued feeling of satisfaction, long after a delicious meal has been consumed.

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