The Five Taste Sensations Are Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter, and?
Umami is a Japanese word that can be translated roughly as “a pleasant savory taste”; the word was first applied to human physiology by Professor Kikunae Ikeda in 1908 to describe the fifth taste, a taste that existed beyond the scope of the more commonly described taste sensations: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter.
Although the term (and the taste itself) was hotly debated in scientific circles, by 1985 advances in science made it possible to isolate exactly what Professor Ikeda had been talking about all along. Umami is specifically the taste created by the presence of glutamates and nucleotides; this flavor is typically found in soup broths, fish dishes, cured meats, ripe tomatoes and many fermented products (such as fermented fish and cheeses). In light of the flavor profile being found in both meats and ripe tomatoes, it’s not surprising that many people describe the flavor of very ripe and dense tomatoes as “meaty”.
The continued study of the specific glutamates and nucleotides that give things that savory “umami” taste have both provided insight into why certain foods are traditionally paired together and allowed food manufacturers to create foods, like canned soups, that have a more satisfying taste.
Image courtesy of Amtsga.