The beginning of taste 

“Life is all about good taste” 

The experience of taste perhaps began at the beginning of time when Adam gave the apple to Eve in the Garden of Eden.  Thus began the journey with food and its many evolutions. For many years of humanity, we were all aware of only four basic tastes.  But did you know that in 1908 a fifth taste was discovered? For a long time, the fifth taste now known as umami remained unrecognised.   

The discovery of Umami 

“Umami is the quasi-secret, heart and soul of almost every braise, stew and soup.” – Michael Pollan 

About a century ago, it was discovered by a chemistry professor at the Imperial University of Tokyo. The professor for some time had an inkling about another flavour and was trying to make a connection.  The professor embarked on a rather tedious chemical isolation process with the aid of just one technician.   The professor based his investigation on the taste of Dashi, a Japanese soup base served with dried fish flakes.  He found that this taste was clearly distinct from the other four basic tastes.  He used the main ingredient of the soup dash, the seaweed Laminaria Japonica, and managed to isolate the dominant taste from this substance. He used various procedures of preparative chemistry.   He used the Japanese adjective umi (delicious) to name it umami.  

The world’s response to Umami 

However, at the time of publication, umami did not garner much appreciation or attention probably because the work was in Japanese.  Furthermore, the taste of umami even in large quantities is mild and does increase with large quantities like sugar or salt. Have you heard of the common amino acid, L-glutamate?  It’s a cleavage produce of all proteins and is said to give out the taste of umami. 

The emergence of Umami 

Decades later, umami is slowly getting recognition among the scientific community and among consumers.  With years of research, scientists have found that umami is not found in seaweed alone.  In fact, it is found in huge quantities in broths, meats, tomatoes, cheese and some other food.   With a lot of experimentation, it was also found that some dominant ingredients in fish flakes like the inosinate and guanylate in dried shiitake mushrooms also triggered the sensation of umami.  

Another big discovery for umami was the fact that breast milk also contained the same level of glutamate as the broth studied by Professor Ikeda.   

After his discovery, Professor went on to manufacture his own line of umami seasoning known as Aji-No-Moto, which is still made today. 


Today, many people the world over relish umami rich food, simply because it has a wholesome rich flavour that intensifies the tastes of other ingredients.  It is delicious, meaty, savoury, intense and always leaves you craving for more. 

“Umami is the savoury meatiness in seaweed and miso and soy sauce. It is, to a large extent, the concept that enables Japanese cuisine to be healthy and attractive at the same time.” Bee Wilson 



Author Arun

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