Quick, think of the last thing you ate today. What words would you use to describe its taste? If you are like most people you would probably come up with some combination of the four basic tastes - sweet, salty, sour, and bitter – but what about umami?
Never heard of it? Neither had I until this morning when I stumbled across it on Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day. This fifth basic taste, originally translated as “deliciousness,” is now used to describe the savory or meaty elements in aged cheeses, cooked meat, broths, and stocks.
Although umami was first isolated as a distinct taste by a Japanese chemist in 1908, the term found solid footing in the academic world less than a decade ago. And if you’re in the mood for some “deliciousness” tonight, adding monosodium glutamate (better known as MSG) to a dish delivers the amino acid that is the source of umami.
No wonder even the cheapest Chinese food tastes so good.