Scientists Say: Umami

This is one of the five tastes, and is often compared to broth or meat

Soy Sauce

The soy sauce you put on your sushi contains a lot of monosodium glutamate, a chemical associated with the flavor known as umami. 

Thomas Hawk/Flickr/(CC BY-NC 2.0)

Umami (noun, “Oo-MAH-mee”)

This is one of the five major tastes. The others are sweet, salty, sour and bitter. Umami comes from the Japanese words for “delicious” and “taste.” Many people say it tastes “meaty” or “brothy.” People taste umami when foods turn on receptors on your tongue for glutamate. It’s an amino acid that is part of many proteins. 

In a sentence

Many animals love the taste of umami, but penguins can’t taste it at all.

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Power Words

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amino acids  Simple molecules that occur naturally in plant and animal tissues and that are the basic constituents of proteins.

glutamate  A salt of glutamic acid. Glutamate plays an important role in the brain as a signaling molecule between cells.

glutamic acid  A non-essential amino acid that helps make up proteins.

umami    One of the five major tastes (along with sweet, sour, salty and bitter). It has been described as savory but most people find the mild flavor hard to characterize. It is particularly prized as a flavor in Japanese cuisines.

Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.

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