Is umami an actual thing?

Umami is your fifth basic flavor along with sour, sweet, bitter and salty. Japanese scientists discovered this fifth flavor at the beginning of the 20th century and called it umami, which translates as salty. What does umami taste like? The literal translation of the Japanese term means “pleasant and tasty flavor” or “delicious”, but that doesn't give you much to eat. Let's put it in terms you can understand.

Think that all aged cheeses bear the signature of umami, and the list doesn't end there. The lesser-known umami-containing foods are tomatoes, beets, corn and soybeans. Come on, let the imagination run wild on your tongue. Umami, which in Japanese means pleasant salty or delicious flavor, was discovered by Japanese chemist and food lover Kikunae Ikeda in the 1900s.

When eating a plate of dashi (seaweed soup), Ikeda noticed that she was trying something delicious that couldn't be described in any of the four flavor categories. Thanks to his scientific background, he was able to take this observation to the laboratory and find out exactly what this umami flavor was. However, like pornography, umami is difficult to describe in words. In The New Yorker, Hannah Goldfield defines it as “that fleshy, dark and deep intensity that distinguishes roasted meat, soy sauce, ripe tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, anchovies and mushrooms, among other things.

It reaches the back of your throat and makes you want more. It's a treat, he explains, which roughly translates to “delight” in Japanese, but it's not just any treat.


is a specific type of treat, the salty thread that connects mushrooms to ripe tomatoes. Literally, there is nothing about the flavor that supposedly umami food products have in common, except for a vague reference to salty or salty.

When I eat them, I think they're salty in some way, or at least I enhance them with salt or a subtle sweetness. As Helen Rosner, also in the main umami publication The New Yorker, recently wrote, many people have been erroneously avoiding monosodium glutamate (monosodium glutamate). I wish I had included that part in my post, precisely because it can be traced back to glutamates, while the things listed in umami tend to have something that improves the perception of glutamates (complex sugars, for example). Umami is a nebulous concept that depends almost entirely on salty to describe it; the rest of the time it is self-referential in terms of its actual flavor.

A review of a New Orleans restaurant, for example, praises a breast containing a “overwhelming avalanche of umami in the back of the mouth.” Umami is nothing more than a pretentious way of coding salty for people who probably refer to themselves as Westerners and have based all their understanding of salty on meat. Glutamic acid itself is sour with a bit of umami flavor, but if you particularly neutralize it with sodium salt, then it's the sodium salt of glutamate or monosodium glutamate, and it has something of a pure flavor. 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.

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