December 2009

The Coffee Department explores "The Fifth Taste"...

Wait, 5th taste?  OK, lets review… there’s sweet, sour, salty and bitter…. and Umami??  What the heck is umami?  If you’re asking yourself that very question, you’re not alone.  For our monthly ‘Taste Personified’ I decided to bring the ubiquitous Mr. Umami to the experts and open up the dialog around what it has to do with coffee!

So, what is it?  In Japanese, umai means delicious, and mi means essence. Loosely translated, umami means ‘brothy’, ‘meaty’, or ‘savory’.  It’s that synergy of flavors that when put together induce the added deliciousness to your tastebuds.  In Japan, many people call any food that reaches a state of perfection ‘umami’.

Umami has been around for thousands of years, but it was first officially discovered in 1908 by Dr. Ikeda, a chemistry professor at the Imperial Tokyo University.  By extracting glutamate from Kombu, (a brown algae and base for Dashi – Japanese fish stock) and pondering the unique flavor profile of the savory soup, he found that umami is actually a taste.  In the year 2000, another team of umami researchers found the actual taste bud, or taste receptor; ‘taste-mGluR4’ which when combined with umami rich foods defined it’s fate in our stimulated senses .  The concept of having a 5th taste was only introduced to the western world about 30 years ago, and the first book published about umami in the United States was in 2005!

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