Umami – the fifth quality of the sense of taste


Umami (“Meaty and hearty, tasty”) is considered to be the fifth quality of the sense of taste alongside sweet, sour, salty and bitter.

It is the name for a full-bodied taste. The umami taste is caused by the amino acid glutamic acid, which is naturally found in small amounts in protein-containing foods such as. B. meat, cheese, tomatoes and mushrooms can be found.

Artificially added glutamic acid is mainly used in Asian cuisine and in the industrial production of convenience food (ready-made soups, ready-made foods).

Some salts of glutamic acid enhance the intensity of certain flavors; these so-called flavor enhancers are also able to mask possible off-taste in food.

The world market for artificially produced monosodium glutamate was around 2 million tons in 2009, most of which are produced in Japan.


ikeda kikunae

Ikeda Kikunae

The Japanese researcher Ikeda Kikunae was the first to describe the taste quality in 1908 umami . In his experiments, Ikeda found that the gustatory perception, in addition to the basic qualities of sweet, sour, salty and bitter, reflects another quality that particularly indicates protein-rich foods.


Since umami is still mostly unknown as a separate taste in western culture, it can also be briefly included hearty or intensive rewrite. However, umami is not limited to salty dishes.

The carrier of the umami taste is the free amino acid glutamic acid, which is extracted from the proteins by proteolysis. It forms the physiologically relevant water-soluble glutamate zwitterion. Their salts are known as glutamates. The sodium salt of glutamic acid is called sodium glutamate (more correctly Monosodium L-Glutamate Monohydrate , engl. Monosodium glutamate , MSG) and dissociates in aqueous solutions to sodium ions and deprotonated glutamic acid. Glutamic acid is found in all foods that contain protein. The release of glutamates through cracks in the cell membranes is increased by cooking, drying or fermenting.

Glutamates are particularly abundant in fully ripe tomatoes, meat, shiitake, cheese (especially Parmesan), condiments (e.g. soy sauce, fish sauce, broth, stock, meat extract, yeast extract, Maggi seasoning, celery seed) and in human breast milk


In addition to glutamic acid, 5′-ribonucleotides of purines such as 5′-inosinate (mainly found in meat), 5′-guanylate (mainly found in plants) and 5′-adenylate (mainly found in fish and shellfish) show an umami -Taste. In addition, inosine monophosphate (IMP) and guanosine monophosphate (GMP) greatly enhance the intensity of the umami taste of glutamic acid. Since the umami sensations triggered by glutamates and purine nucleotides complement each other, they are often used together.

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