Democritus, a noted philosopher, once said that food crumbles into little bits when chewed, and these bits eventually break into four basic shapes. The bits of atoms of a sweet flavor are said to be round and large; salty to have isosceles triangular bits; bitter to be spherical, smooth, small and scalene; and sour having rough, angular and un-spherically large atoms.
Essentially, people are familiar with sweet, salty, sour and bitter flavors. However, Japan, being known for its unique and flavorful dishes, was able to associate a different zest that makes their amazing cuisine original. This flavor is called the umami. Umami is a Japanese word that means “pleasant savory taste” in English. In the Kanji language, the word umai (うまい) literally means ‘delicious’ and mi (味) means ‘taste’.
The discovery of umami being one of the five basic tastes in the Japanese cuisine was not easily accepted by other countries. In fact, food experts from around the world have debated whether or not umami can be considered as a basic taste. Nonetheless, after several years of study, the term umami was finally recognized during an international symposium held in Hawaii in the year 1985.
According to Oxford Journals, “The taste of monosodium glutamate (MSG) by itself does not in any sense represent deliciousness. Instead, it is often described as unpleasant, and as bitter, salty or soapy; however, when MSG is added in low concentrations to appropriate foods, the flavor, pleasantness and acceptability of the food increases. MSG is a tastant, as is salt (NaCl).” This simply means that MSG, in appropriate amounts, brings out the ‘umami’ flavor of any dish.
For home cooks, professional chefs, and food experts alike, umami is a natural flavor enhancer that brings life to every dish. On top of that, umami can suppress unpleasant flavors of food and can improve satiety.