Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

Umami is the fifth taste, after sweet, bitter, acid (or sour), and salt. For centuries, its existence was suggested by the adjective ‘meaty’, but it did not have the physical validation of taste buds or receptors as did the four major tastes, nor had it been isolated in any useful fashion. In 1908 the Japanese scientist Kikunae Ikeda discovered monosodium glutamate in the brown seaweed or kelp konbu (also called kombu) that was used to make the soup stock dashi. He realized that this was the source of dashi’s distinct flavour, and he named the taste umami (‘delicious’ plus ‘taste’, although a modern Anglophone might simply translate it as ‘yummy’). He also drew attention to the existence of this taste in other foods such as meats and cheese.