Enter the 5th flavour: umami

Came across an interesting article from NPR today on the discovery of the 5th taste profile. Looks like we Auguste Escoffiercan thank one of cooking’s demi-gods for its discovery. Auguste Escoffier first experienced this taste when he developed veal stock. This stock would ultimately redefine sauces as they knew them in the late 1800s and now. The basic four tastes were: sweet, salty, bitter and sour, as defined centuries earlier by the Greek philosopher, Democritus. When Escoffier tasted his first veal stock, he realized he had stumbled onto something new. It was not until the 19th century, when taste buds were “discovered”, analysed and classified by the scientific community, did the science of taste become established. However, because Escoffier’s new flavor profile did not fall into one of the four categories…

“…as far as the scientists were concerned, it wasn’t real. People may smack their lips, drool, savor and pay enormous amounts of money to M. Escoffier, but what they were tasting wasn’t really there. It was all in their heads.”

glutamicMeanwhile, in Japan, a chemist named Kikunae Ikeda, arrived at the similar taste profile while drinking/eating daichi, a classic Japanese soup made from seaweed. Being a chemist, he was able to decompose it to its essential component, namely glutamic acid. However, he decided to give it a sexier name, “umami”, which means “yummy” or “delicious” in Japanese. When glutamate breaks down during the cooking process, L-glutamate is the end result. And this is what became the fifth taste. In 2002, some 100 years later, the scientific community recognized the work done by Ikeda and officially established and named that fifth taste (which is neither sweet, salty, sour or bitter), umami.

I would have loved to see Escoffier’s and Ikeda’s face when they first realized they had stumbled onto such a world-altering discovery…

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