Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

  • About

Japanese term derived from two words meaning ‘delicious’ and ‘essence’ and used to refer to what some consider to be the fifth primary taste (see tasting). More a quality than a specific flavour, it is variously described as ‘savoury’ or ‘meaty’ and is found in high levels in foods such as soy sauce, Parmesan, fresh tomato juice, tuna and seaweed. Umami levels in other foods are increased by the addition of monosodium glutamate.

Eastern thinking has for many centuries recognized five primary tastes but it was not until 1907 that Professor Ikeda of Tokyo Imperial University identified and isolated the amino acid glutamate, or glutamic acid, as the source of the flavour he named ‘umami’. He subsequently developed the seasoning monosodium glutamate so that umami levels in other foods might be increased. Recent research identifying the receptors on the tongue that detect amino acids gives further credibility to the existence of this fifth taste.