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Umami – the 5th taste

Sweet, sour, salty, bitter. The four main tastes on our tongues. Long accepted and unchallenged.
This year, there’s five tastes.
Scientists have finally accepted the existance of Umami. A taste that’s neither sweet, sour, salty, bitter or any combination of them all. Umami is the taste of ‘fullness’, a tongue-coating sensation akin to a good mouthful of well cooked meat. Ironically, chefs have long known and accepted the existance of this ‘meaty’ and savoury taste.
The term Umami was coined by Professor Kikunae Ikeda who managed to isolate the protein responsible for it. But it was M. Escoffier, a French chef who lived in the late 1800’s, who was the first to utilise Umami for commercial gain. He introduced veal stock, the stuff that goes into gravies and soups, to France. Today, we’d probably scoff at its importance. But back then, it was likened to God’s second coming. Ladies and men in puffy baroque clothes and with overly powdered faces would pay top Franc to eat at Escoffier’s restaurant. In 2007 terms, it’s probably similar to paying for a thick slice of lightly-grilled Waygu beef.
The next time if something’s good to eat and it’s not quite sweet, sour, salty or bitter. Perhaps, just perhaps, it might be ‘Umami’.

Who coined Umami?

This distinction belongs to Professor Kikunae Ikeda of Tokyo Imperial University. He was intrigued by the taste common to tomatoes, cheese and meat. As he was a chemist, he had the know-how and resources to figure out what’s going on. He discovered that glutamates (an amino acid) were responsible for the Umami taste.

From there, he synthesised a chemical compound MSG (Monosodium Glutamate) to be used as seasoning. Look out for little plastic bottles filled with white crystals.

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