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UmamiUnlocking the Secrets of the Fifth Taste$
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Ole Mouritsen and Klavs Styrbæk

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780231168908

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231168908.001.0001

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The fifth taste

The fifth taste

What is umami?

(p.21) (p.22) (p.23) The fifth taste

Ole G. Mouritsen

Klavs Styrbæk

Jonas Drotner Mouritsen

, Mariela Johansen
Columbia University Press

This chapter focuses on the fifth taste: umami. Even though the word umami had been used in Japan for hundreds of years to signify the concept of something delicious, people only became truly conscious of it thanks to the efforts of a single individual—Japanese professor and chemist Kikunae Ikeda, who set himself the challenge of identifying the substance in Japanese soups that was responsible for their fantastically good taste. He found the answer in 1908. This chapter first provides an overview of Ikeda's search for the fifth taste and proceeds by discussing glutamic acid and glutamate. It then explains the meaning of the word umami and its transition from laboratory to mass production. It also considers how MSG is made, the “Chinese restaurant syndrome,” the Japanese discovery of other umami substances, and the link between an infant's taste preferences for umami and mother's milk. Finally, it describes umami's global presence, how umami has won acceptance as a distinct taste, and the controversy surrounding umami as a taste.

Keywords:   fifth taste, umami, Japan, Kikunae Ikeda, soups, glutamic acid, glutamate, MSG, Chinese restaurant syndrome, mother's milk

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