The discovery of the fifth taste
For a long time it was assumed that the human tongue was limited to perceiving sweet, sour, salty and bitter flavours – yet an additional savoury-spicy flavour has become widely recognised – ‘umami’, a sort of meaty flavour. Glutamic acid, an amino acid, is responsible for the characteristic ‘umami’ flavour. It is found in meat-based and protein-rich foods such as cheese, but also occurs in tomatoes, peas and mushrooms.
The name is derived from the Japanese word ‘umai’, which can be translated as ‘delicious’. The discovery of ‘umami’ as a stand-alone flavour originated from Japanese scientist Kikunae Ikeda. Around 1910 he ascertained that the intense flavour of a Japanese fish stock could not be compared to any other known flavour sensations at that time.
These days researchers continue to search for the existence of other flavour sensations in addition to the five established ones – sweet, sour, salty, bitter and ‘umami’. But to this date ‘umami’ is clearly the savoury taste that drives consumer preference in the past and today.