The Fifth Taste: The Power of Umami

In the world of culinary arts, there are many flavors and tastes that go beyond the traditional sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. One of these tastes is often described as savory, meaty, or brothy and has been recognized by Japanese culture for over a century. This unique taste sensation, known as the “fifth taste,” has gained widespread recognition in the modern culinary world and has become a key element in many dishes. In this article, we will delve into the world of the fifth taste, exploring its cultural significance and how it has influenced modern cuisine. We will also provide tips on how to incorporate this taste sensation into your own cooking, and how to enhance the flavors of your dishes. Join us on a journey of taste as we explore the mysterious world of the fifth taste.

What is Umami?

Umami (from Japanese うま味 umami ‘tastiness’, to うまい umai ‘tasty, spicy’ and 味 mi ‘essence’) is used to describe a quality of the sense of taste which, along with sweet, sour, salty and bitter, is one of the basic sensory qualities of gustatory perception in humans.

The sensory quality umami is usually described as a savory, spicy or meaty taste and is perceived as comparatively long-lasting. It was first identified as the fifth basic taste sensation in the early 20th century by Japanese scientist Kikunae Ikeda. Umami is created when glutamate, an amino acid found naturally in many foods, interacts with specific taste receptors on the tongue. This interaction triggers a response in the brain that is responsible for the unique flavor profile. Some of the most common umami-rich foods include meat, fish, mushrooms, soy products, cheese, tomatoes, seaweed, and fermented foods. Understanding the science behind umami can help enhance the flavor of dishes and create a more memorable dining experience.

History of Umami

Umami was first identified by Japanese scientist Kikunae Ikeda in 1908, who noticed that certain foods like seaweed and dried fish had a distinct flavor that was different from the other four basic tastes (sweet, sour, salty, and bitter). Ikeda was able to isolate the compound responsible for this flavor, which he named “umami,” from kombu, a type of seaweed.

Since then, umami has become an integral part of Japanese cuisine and culture. In fact, it is often said that umami is the secret behind the rich and complex flavors of Japanese food, from miso soup to sushi. However, umami is not limited to Japanese cuisine – it is found in many other cuisines around the world, including Italian, Chinese, and Korean.

The Science of Umami

Umami is created when glutamate, an amino acid that is found naturally in many foods, binds to specific taste receptors on the tongue. This interaction triggers a response in the brain that is responsible for the savory and meaty flavor of umami. Other compounds, such as inosinate and guanylate, can also enhance the umami flavor and are often used in food additives like MSG (monosodium glutamate).

Umami Foods

Some of the most common foods that are rich in umami include:

  • Meat, especially beef and pork
  • Fish and seafood, such as anchovies and shrimp
  • Mushrooms, especially shiitake and portobello
  • Soy products, like soy sauce, miso, and tofu
  • Cheese, such as parmesan and cheddar
  • Tomatoes, especially sun-dried
  • Seaweed, like nori and kelp
  • Fermented foods, such as kimchi and sauerkraut

These foods are often used in combination to create rich and flavorful dishes, such as beef stews, mushroom risottos, and tomato-based pasta sauces.

Recipe Ideas

If you’re interested in incorporating more umami-rich foods into your cooking, here are a few recipe ideas to get you started:

  • Grilled portobello mushrooms with balsamic glaze and parmesan cheese
  • Soy-glazed salmon with roasted asparagus
  • Miso soup with tofu and seaweed
  • Beef stew with red wine and mushrooms
  • Tomato and basil pasta with sun-dried tomatoes and parmesan cheese


Umami is a flavor profile that has been recognized and enjoyed for centuries. With its savory, meaty taste, it adds depth and complexity to many dishes and has become an essential part of many cuisines around the world. By understanding the science behind umami and incorporating umami-rich ingredients into your cooking, you can elevate the flavors of your dishes and create a truly memorable dining experience.