Getting to Know the Fifth Taste: Umami

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“Umami” Rhymes with “Yummy”

Have you ever taken a bite out of a burger and have only been able to describe it as “delicious” or “yummy”? The word you’re probably looking for is umami.

 

All About the Flavor

Just look at that burger; the chemistry is undeniable. We’re talking the molecular change that certain foods undergo when cooked under the heat of an open flame. Japanese chemist, Kikunae Ikeda, discovered the science behind deliciousness. Ikeda found that proteins, under heat, break apart into groups. One is called L-glutamate, which is the molecule responsible for that distinct umami flavor. It binds with receptors on your tongue to create a chain reaction of appetizing flavor, which then binds you to that burger.

 

On the Hunt for Umami 

Although illustrious in Japanese cuisine, it can be tasted in just about every global cuisine. From oysters to potatoes, umami is ubiquitous and often labeled as that savory taste that lingers bite after bite. Unlike the other tastes like sour, bitter, sweet and salty, umami is comparable to the satisfaction of the perfect taco crunch or an ice cold drink on a summer’s day. It’s certainly the most satisfying of the tastes, yet the most indescribable; all we know is that we can’t imagine our palate without it.