We easily determine the taste of food. Usually, to describe it, we use 4 basic tastes – sweet, sour, salty and bitter. It is easy to feel and describe one of those basic tastes. But how would you describe the taste of tomatoes or smoked meat? Actually, there is a 5th taste that was discovered in the last century – umami. Read on to find out what is umami and how does it taste.
What is umami, and who discovered it?
Umami means “delicious taste” or “pleasant savory taste” in Japanese.
It has always been present in food together with sour, bitter, sweet and salty flavors. However, it was discovered only in 1908 by the University of Tokyo chemist Kikunae Ikeda. He discovered glutamate, an amino acid that is present in some foods and gives them a special flavor. Ikeda learned how to isolate glutamate and patented monosodium glutamate, a well-known flavor enhancer.
Umami has a mild "protein", pleasant, meaty taste and a long aftertaste.
Glutamic acid, which is found in numerous foods, gives it an unexpressed umami taste. But salts from glutamic acid – glutamates – give a more pronounced umami taste. To feel this taste, you need to release them. It is done through heat treatment.
For example, raw meat does not have umami taste, but if cooked, it will appear. Glutamates are also released by fermentation – soy sauce, jerky, and cheese have an umami taste. Mushrooms, green peas, corn and tomatoes contain large amounts of glutamate as well.
Can you taste umami in coffee?
Umami is can be rarely found in coffee flavors. There are no regularities in the method of processing or roasting, in which this taste appears in coffee.
It is influenced by the terroir and modern processing methods associated with fermentation. During fermentation, acetic acid develops the most. Due to this, the taste of coffee can evolve from pleasant to bright taste of vinegar. At some point it can be called a taste of umami.
Umami taste can be divided into 3 main descriptors: soy sauce, tomatoes and mushrooms. It tastes like beef broth. If you want to better understand what umami tastes like, buy monosodium glutamate and dissolve a small amount of it in warm water.
Umami (as well as bitter taste) is considered a negative descriptor if there is a lot of it in the taste. Q-grading is still based on only 4 basic tastes and doesn’t consider umami.
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