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What is it?

Umami is a Japanese word meaning delicious flavor; in English it is usually described as having a meaty or savory taste. It was first identified by Professor Kikunae Ikeda of Tokyo Imperial University in 1908 and is generally recognized as the fifth sense (along with sweet, sour, salty, and bitter).

Foods high in free-form glutamate (a naturally occurring result of the breakdown of protein molecules) have a distinct palatability, especially when combined with salt. It is thought that umami-flavored foods taste saltier or sweeter; it also balances bitterness or sour notes. Cooking, most notably roasting, intensifies umami flavors in foods that are naturally high in free-form glutamate.

Some examples are:

  • Anchovies
  • Beef
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cured meats
  • Green tea
  • Fish sauce
  • Mushrooms
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Sardines
  • Seaweed (kombu)
  • Shellfish
  • Soy sauce
  • Spinach
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Truffles

For more information about umami, see:

Umami Information Center

Reader's Digest

Science of Cooking