HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >

What's YOUR Opinion; Umame, is it real?

PotatoHouse May 12, 2013 01:30 PM

So what do you think, is umame real or just a very successful "Emperor's New Clothes" style advertising campaign?

Personally, I can't give an informed opinion because I have yet to eat a dish that claimed to feature that particular "flavor".

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. j
    Just Visiting RE: PotatoHouse May 12, 2013 06:31 PM

    It's umami and it isn't a flavor. It is one of the five basic tastes (like sweet, salty, bitter, sour). The taste is a reaction to L-glutamate:


    Since I haven't seen it used in advertising campaigns except for Kikkoman soy sauce, I'm puzzled by why you think it is a very successful advertising campaign. What other advertising have you seen it used in?

    1 Reply
    1. re: Just Visiting
      Chemicalkinetics RE: Just Visiting May 12, 2013 10:38 PM

      <The taste is a reaction to L-glutamate>

      Just want to clarify that L-glutamate gives a strong "umami" taste, but it is not the only amino acid which triggers this umami taste.

      "Umami is the taste quality associated with several amino acids, especially the amino acid L-glutamate. "


      "We demonstrate that T1R1 and T1R3 combine to function as a broadly tuned l-amino-acid sensor responding to most of the 20 standard amino acids..."


      <I'm puzzled by why you think it is a very successful advertising campaign.>

      Considering how many people testify that they hate the artificially added MSG, we really have both like and dislike witnesses for this taste.

    2. Kris in Beijing RE: PotatoHouse May 12, 2013 08:03 PM

      For me, umami IS real.

      It's the depth in a grilled mushroom, past woodsy and into savoury;
      it's the part of soy sauce between "dark" and "salt;"
      it's what makes me say "this tastes like a real tomato!";
      it's why I savour ikura;
      it's the other full flavour in a baked sweet potato beyond sweet and baked and salt and butter;
      it's the edge of parmesan cheese that isn't fat-sweet-sour-bitter-salty

      I know people who, when asked about tastes, say "it tastes like a 'fresh tomato'" without any other way to describe it.
      Or "It's cheese-- it tastes like CHEESE."
      I think a vocabulary word they are missing IS umami.

      Reader's Digest [yes, really] has an informative slide show here:

      1. ipsedixit RE: PotatoHouse May 12, 2013 09:05 PM

        It's like the G-Spot.

        And you better believe I believe it's real.

        3 Replies
        1. re: ipsedixit
          NonnieMuss RE: ipsedixit May 13, 2013 06:09 AM

          I never knew that "G" stood for "Glutamate". Learn something new every day!

          1. re: ipsedixit
            ricepad RE: ipsedixit May 13, 2013 12:00 PM

            You mean women know umami is real, and (most) men think it's hype?

            1. re: ricepad
              kimmer1850 RE: ricepad May 14, 2013 08:18 AM

              Thanks. Now I have to clean coffee off my key board. And my hisband thinks I've lost my mind!

          2. Chemicalkinetics RE: PotatoHouse May 12, 2013 10:11 PM

            It is real. It isn't just Emperor's New Clothes (and why would it?). It has been shown that our tongues have receptors for the so called umami.

            Let me put it this way. Prior to the classification of umami, it was believed in Europe that all tastes (anything you can taste) can be deconstructed to four basic tastes: saltiness, sweetness, sourness and bitterness. If you have ever eaten meat before, then you would have realized that there is this "meat" taste which is not these four tastes. Many realized something is missing because they can feel there is something which cannot be constructed from these four tastes. This is later called umami.

            1. fldhkybnva RE: PotatoHouse May 12, 2013 11:27 PM

              You've probably eaten many dishes that have that particular "taste" as it's a component of many common dishes. I "believe" in umami as I'm not sure what's not to believe in. As an aged cheese, tomato-loving, mushroom-addict, meatatarian I think I have my fair share of glutamate receptors :)

              1. r
                RosePearl RE: PotatoHouse May 13, 2013 02:18 AM

                Of course it is. Milk, meat, etc, are not salty, bitter, sour, or sweet. When I was a child, I could never figure out why people said that there were only four tastes.

                3 Replies
                1. re: RosePearl
                  TroyTempest RE: RosePearl May 13, 2013 10:29 AM

                  I can't believe that there are only 5, unless you want to broaden the definition of umami to everything that doesn't fall into the first 4.

                  1. re: TroyTempest
                    Chemicalkinetics RE: TroyTempest May 13, 2013 11:07 AM

                    Well, we only know 5 for now for sure. Possibly a 6 one on fat, but that is a very subtle taste -- if it is a taste.

                    Please also know many of the so called "taste" is really smell. For example, fresh apple and fresh potato have the same taste, not the same smell. Whatever the difference we notice between the two, they are smell driven.

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                      TroyTempest RE: Chemicalkinetics May 13, 2013 01:46 PM

                      Interesting. I forget about taste without smell.

                2. MGZ RE: PotatoHouse May 13, 2013 10:45 AM

                  I posted this almost three years ago. I'll stand by it.

                  "I suppose my point is that Umami is bigger than the sum of its parts. In the century since Ikeda tried to decode what made dashi so magically delicious, it has proven that there is more to umami than the glutamate originally assigned the appellation. For example, the science has clearly expanded to prove the roles of the ribonucleotides.

                  All of that, however, is really still trying to capture snozberries in a piece of gum. Umami in dashi is still elusive and hopefully always retains some of that quality. Admittedly, this notion is a bit romantic given the initial scientific guise of the inquiry. It seems, however, that the colloquial development of the term in Japanese culture during the seventy-five years before it began to waft into the western lexicon adopts that imprecise element.

                  The explanation of umami as “the fifth taste” is a helpful shorthand. It satisfies our need to categorize, but fails to handle the nuance that distinguishes it, both scientifically and experientially, from the other “tastes.” The notion certainly existed before science was able to peek behind the curtain and I submit that its spirit will always maintain a bit of je ne c’est quoi.

                  At bottom, MSG is not umami, nor can you distill a few ingredients into a tube and fairly try to usurp the term."


                  1. Kris in Beijing RE: PotatoHouse May 13, 2013 03:48 PM

                    And good old Wikipedia says:

                    Basic tastes...
                    ...As of the early twentieth century, physiologists and psychologists believed there were four basic tastes: sweetness, sourness, saltiness, bitterness. ... now a large number of authorities recognize [umami] as the fifth taste...There is some evidence for a sixth taste that senses fatty substances

                    In Asian countries within the sphere of mainly Chinese and Indian cultural influence, pungency (piquancy or hotness) had traditionally been considered a sixth[7th?] basic taste

                    1. Atomic76 RE: PotatoHouse May 18, 2013 01:36 AM

                      For me, "umami" usually means "there's too much damn msg in this"

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: Atomic76
                        Kalivs RE: Atomic76 May 18, 2013 03:56 AM

                        I understand why you might think this way given umami's relationship to Japanese cuisine, but umami is present in other foods such as Parmesan cheese. It always amuses me to hear my Indian family complain about their MSG allergies, yet have no problems eating dishes cooked with dried mango powder.

                        1. re: Atomic76
                          hotoynoodle RE: Atomic76 May 18, 2013 06:12 AM


                          if msg is so bad, why don't a billion chinese have headaches?

                          1. re: hotoynoodle
                            Kris in Beijing RE: hotoynoodle May 18, 2013 10:53 AM

                            Maybe it's like caffeine -- you build a tolerance and then get a withdrawal headache?

                            In my personal experience, MSG headaches are "all in their head." Can't tell you how many times I've heard people complaining post-Asian meal, when we've been to a restaurant that trumpets that they DO NOT EVER use MSG.

                            In certain circles, I think MSG headaches are just cache.

                            1. re: Kris in Beijing
                              Chemicalkinetics RE: Kris in Beijing May 18, 2013 11:12 AM

                              Or maybe there is a racial/ethnicity difference.

                              Migraine, for example, has difference occurrence among different racial groups. Whites being much higher than Asians.

                          2. re: Atomic76
                            Chemicalkinetics RE: Atomic76 May 18, 2013 09:44 AM

                            <For me, "umami" usually means "there's too much damn msg in this">

                            Maybe, but that also means it is a "real" thing.

                          3. Wahooty RE: PotatoHouse May 18, 2013 03:30 PM

                            "The good thing about science is, it's true whether or not you believe in it." -Neil DeGrasse Tyson

                            It's a TASTE, not a flavor. Tastes are things your tastebuds recognize..flavors require a working nose. Lots of things taste sweet, but they all have different flavors. As far as my tastebuds are concerned, umami is the taste of nearly everything that's good. The foods that make my eyes roll back in my head and my heart soar always turn out to be umami-rich.

                            1. w
                              wayne keyser RE: PotatoHouse May 18, 2013 11:06 PM

                              Definitely real.

                              There is a Korean bean paste (comes in a square plastic box as gochujiang hot pepper paste does, except green) that tastes salty and soybeany, but also adds a "gosh darn this is TASTY!" taste. So does Viet fish sauce. Strangely, I am utterly unable to detect the legendary similarly-described effect of MSG.

                              Show Hidden Posts