Umami, also known as monosodium glutamate, is one of the fifth major flavors, including sweet, sour, bitter and salty.
Umamimeans “essence of delight” in Japanese, and its flavor is often described as the meaty, savory treat that deepens flavor. Thanks to his scientific background, he was able to take this observation to the laboratory and find out exactly what this umami flavor was. Technically, umami refers to glutamate, a type of amino acid found naturally in many foods such as meat, fish, vegetables and several dairy products.
After many years of eating and researching, scientists (and chefs) are now adding umami, the almost mythical fifth flavor of glutamates and nucleotides, to umami, as the mysterious fifth flavor. But how does the brain know if there is umami, or some flavor, in a dish? In the tongue, bundles of taste receptor cells form taste buds. Although scientific research supports the human perception of umami, some hesitate to label it as a “fifth flavor”, which includes bitter, salty, sweet and sour. Although all the different receptors are distributed across the tongue, the particular family of receptors that register umami flavors are called G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs).
In Japanese, umami is used sparingly to describe something exceptional; for example, the best French fries you've ever tasted. That's not to say that umami isn't a real flavor, there's just controversy about how important its sensory function is. These tools will be of great help to researchers who want to gain a deeper understanding of what triggers the avalanche of umami flavors in the tongue and brain. One possible reason that umami hasn't been well received in the flavor family could be because glutamate receptors were recently discovered, Maier says.
Umami, which in Japanese means pleasant salty or delicious flavor, was discovered by Japanese chemist and food lover Kikunae Ikeda in the 1900s. Harry Lawless, food scientist, explained that umami is modified in its definition in Western cultures and has been translated as delicious, salty, meaty and brothy. As delicious as foods rich in umami are, there is no consensus as to whether it is actually a basic flavor, such as sweet, salty, etc. She believes that the idea that umami is a basic flavor emerged in the 1940s from companies that produce foods rich in MSG.