Umami [Noun.]


A category of taste in food (besides sweet, sour, salt and bitter), corresponding to the flavour of glutamates, especially monosodium glutamate

Umami is the most recently accepted taste in food and is popularly referred to as savoriness. It was first recognised as the scientific term to describe the taste of glutamates (a non-essential amino acid) at the first Umami International Symposium in Hawaii in 1985. Umami can be described as a pleasant long-lasting savoury taste that often triggers a mouthwatering sensation of the tongue.

The word umami is a loan translation from the Japanese umami which literally translates into ‘delicious’ (umai) and ‘taste’ (mi). There is no proper translation for the word itself, which is why umami remains umami in all major languages.

The Japanese origins of the word can be attributed to the scientist Kikunae Ikeda, a professor of the Tokyo Imperial University, who discovered that glutamates caused the palatability of the broth of a certain seaweed. Because the taste of the broth was none of the four basic tastes, he called it umami.

East Asian cuisine uses a wide variety of food combinations that strengthen the umami taste. An example of this is the considerable Chinese usage of the monosodium glutamate ve-tsin, a flavour enhancer.

A possible but not yet accepted sixth taste is piquance, popularly called hotness or spiciness, although there is a certain linguistic ambiguity to the latter two; something can both hot (out of the oven) and spicy (containing a lot of spices) but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is piquant. The Scoville scale measures the piquance of chili peppers, more specifically the amount of capsaicin they contain.

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