Umami is the name of the fifth basic taste (besides sweetness, bitterness, sourness and saltiness) that is mainly attributed to the amino acid glutamic acid and which can be literally translated as “deliciousness”.
In 1908 the Japanese took Kikunae Ikeda found that monosodium glutamate is the “tasty compound” of Laminaria japonica (algae), which is traditionally used in Japan to improve the taste of soups. He named this sensory impression umami.
The "Umami taste"
Umami substances such as glutamate enhance the taste of food, particularly of meat and meat products. However, this improvement cannot be described by the four basic tastes sweetness, bitterness, sourness and saltiness. Therefore, umami is called the fifth basic taste. With the taste receptors T1R1 and T1R3 an explanation for the umami taste seems to be found.
In susceptible persons (especially women), a high intake of monosodium glutamate can induce the so-called Chinese restaurant syndrome (glutamate intolerance). Symptoms can include:
- Headache (especially at the temples)
- Pain in the limbs
- Tingling in the face and neck
- Dry mouth
Chemical structure of umami compounds
Characteristic for umami compounds is that two negative charges are three to nine (carbon-) atoms of each other away.
Other flavor enhancers with glutamate-like taste and partly similar chemical structure are:
- Inosine monophosphate (IMP)
- Guanosine monophosphate (GMP)
- Ibotenic acid
- Tricholoma acid
- Homocysteine acid
- Cysteine-S-sulphonic acid
Books on Amazon
- The Fifth Taste: Cooking with Umami
- Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor
- Dashi and Umami: The Heart of Japanese Cuisine
- Morimoto: The New Art of Japanese Cooking