We're all familiar with the four primary tastes we experience on our tongues: sweet, salty, bitter, and sour. Food scientists and restaurant critics desperate for novel terms have also added two more semi-tastes: astringent, and spicy. But a century ago the Japanese identified a fifth primary taste -- "umami" -- which can be roughly translated as "deliciousness." Writers and scientists have had a hard time describing exactly what umami is -- not a flavor, not quite a sensation. Many people agree that when you encounter it in food, umami imparts a feeling of fullness, roundness, savoriness, or yumminess.
Umami comes from glutamate (yes, as in MSG, which is glutamate in a shaker. MSG has been mostly given a bum rap, but that's another story). Glutamate is an amino acid that is found in many foods. One of the great challenges for chefs in both the East and the West is finding ways to combine foods to get the biggest glutamate punch, because the more umami a dish has, the more likely customers and stray food critics are to fall into ecstasies of devotion. Umami is probably the main reason why spaghetti & meatballs is so universally loved.
Wanna guess which of the foods pictured below contain glutamate? PS: If you're really an umami devotee, as I am, you can join the Umami Information Center, and learn all about the fun conferences and symposia and seminars they sponsor around the world.
*the photo above is from hoosierburgerboy.com, a great blog about all things burger.
Hit the jump to identify yer umami.