Believe it or not, there's a fifth basic taste. It is called umami and was discovered by a Japanese scientist almost a hundred years ago in 1908, when he isolated amino acids (or glutamates) from seaweed. Umami is difficult to define, but can be loosely translated as either savory, meaty or broth-like.
Since this fifth basic taste is not so well-known and even misunderstood at times, the Food and Nutrition Research Institute recently held a round table discussion about umami at Café Ysabel in San Juan. The event sought to develop a common and in-depth understanding of the fifth basic taste through a technical, scientific, anthropological and layman's point of view. Among those who attended were: Dr. Mario Capanzana, director FNRI, DOST; Dr. Josefa S. Eusebio, Glutamate Association of the Philippines; Dr. Nemencio A. Nicodemus Jr., vice chairman of Academic Affairs and associate professor, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, College of Medicine, UP; Dr. Soledad Natalia M. Dalisay, Associate professor, Department of Anthropology, College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, UP; Chef Gene R. Gonzales, president, Center for Asian Culinary Studies; and Dr. Adela Jamorato-Ruiz, director, Curicculum Planning and Development, Polytechnic University of the Philippines. Mrs. Celeste C. Tanchoco of the Nutrition Science and Technology Division of the FNRI, DOST, served as the event moderator.
But what is umami? Based on scientific studies on taste and palatability that were discussed, umami was deemed a distinctive taste that is associated with free glutamates present in foods. Food tastings, courtesy of Café Ysabel, was also conducted to show its applicability in characterizing food. Likewise, a short presentation on how umami is achieved in traditional as well as modern Filipino cooking was made.
The round table discussion was deemed a preliminary activity on a more comprehensive symposium of umami that will be held in a few months time. Until that truly ground-breaking event happens though, we may just as well impress friends by describing food as umami, thereby engendering a lively discussion on the fifth basic taste.