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What You Need to Know About Umami

Updated on May 10, 2012
Umami Fettucine
Umami Fettucine | Source

The Fifth Taste

Growing up, we all learned about the four tastes: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. I don't know about you, but I remember enjoying the tasting sessions. Even though I knew what was going to happen, I still enjoyed experimenting, and of course, the food was always good!

What some of us may not know is that there is a fifth taste. Dubbed umami, this fifth taste seems rather mysterious. It is also known as savoriness and is actually a Japanese word that is literally translated as "pleasant savory taste". This flavor is totally different from the other four basic tastes, but its effect is to make food simply more delicious.

Umami was first identified in 1908 by Japanese scientist Kikunae Ikeda, who was a professor at the Tokyo Imperial University. However, long before that, glutamate was already used by the ancient Romans. Glutamate is the substance that gives off the umami taste.

Today, we know of many food items that are rich in glutamate. There are also supplements or condiments that enhance the umami flavor.

Where to Get Umami

If you want to be technical about it, you can get your umami fix from food items that are rich in L-glutamate, IMP, and GMP. Correct me if I am wrong, though: You probably only want to know what food items can give you the umami taste!

The next time you do your grocery shopping, and you want that savory flavor, stock up on items such as:

  • fish
  • shellfish
  • cured meat (I knew there was a reason for bacon!)
  • ripe tomatoes
  • mushroom
  • Chinese cabbage
  • spinach
  • celery
  • green tea
  • soy sauce
  • cheese
  • shrimp paste

Here's another interesting source: mother's milk!

Additionally, if you want more of that umami goodness, you can turn to a cooking aid that has long been in use in Asia. Ajinomoto is a seasoning that comes straight from the discoverer of umami, Ikeda himself. It is said that upon securing the patent, Ikeda approached Saburosuke Suzuki, who was then involved in producing iodine. Together, they created this seasoning, which is the first of its kind. The rest, as they say, is history.

Cheese Plate
Cheese Plate | Source

Benefits of Umami

There has been some controversy about umami in the past, but many studies have long proven the worth of this flavor. In fact, there are some convincing health benefits to umami.

One, it actually helps you feel full for a longer period of time! That is certainly good news for people who are trying to lose weight. With umami, you can eat less and not have to eat as often as you used to.

Two, umami makes the food more flavorful, inducing those who have eating problems to actually eat. This may seem to contradict the previous point, but if you think about two different groups of people, with those who have no appetite in mind for this second point, you can easily understand how umami is beneficial.

Three, umami helps you to use less salt. Salt is not bad in itself, but using too much of it has various negative effects. With umami, the food is already very tasty, so you can actually cut back on the salt without sacrificing the savoriness of the dish!


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    • girlonfire profile image

      girlonfire 5 years ago

      Thank you for dropping by. I hope you get to experience it firsthand.

    • joanveronica profile image

      Joan Veronica Robertson 5 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi, this was an interesting Hub! I had never heard of umami, but I'm always willing to learn. Voted up, etc.

    • Sheepsquatch profile image

      Sheepsquatch 5 years ago from Springfield, MO

      Nice topic