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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Random Thoughts: Umami

Everyone learned in grade school about the four basic tastes: sweet, salt, bitter and sour - but did you know there is a fifth taste? Yep, there really are 5 and its name is umami. Umami was originally discovered in Japan in 1908 and the word umami means savory. Umami wasn't officially recognized as a fifth flavor in the west until the 1980's when the taste receptors were discovered. For those of you who are very detail oriented - the taste receptor for umami is called "taste-mGluR4". And unlike the other four tastes which send signals via synapses, umami receptors use neurotransmitters like serotonin.

Monosodium glutamate is most commonly associated with this taste, but it is in fact the glutamate (aka glutamic acid - an amino acid) that is responsible. Glutamic acid is found in lots of different foods: dairy (especially cheeses), meats (chicken, beef & pork), fish & shellfish, soybeans (including soy sauce & miso), seaweed, tomatoes, mushrooms, broth & stock. And while MSG is better known, there are two other ribotides, inosinate and guanylate, that also possess the taste of umami.

The taste of umami is best described as heaviness or meatiness. It is almost more of a feeling of fullness or richness that is hard to define, but you can immediately tell when its missing! It is especially common in fermented products since the fermentation process breaks down proteins releasing the glutamic acid and making it available to your taste bud's receptors.

I hope you found this random thought of interest and begin to taste your food with a new appreiciation of our fifth taste!

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