It is said that "Eating is a sensory experience that involves all 5 sensesWhen we eat, in fact, touch, taste, hearing and smell are involved in the perception of what we are eating.

Taste is the sense that allows us to distinguish flavors and specifically the perception of flavor occurs when the tasty molecules interact with the taste cell receptors present inside our mouth. The gustatory system is able to recognize 5 basic tastes: salty, sweet, sour, bitter and .. umami!

It is defined as "basic taste" when it has the following requirements:

  • Characteristic, unlike any other flavor,
  • cannot be reproduced by any combination of other basic flavors,
  • universal, induced by precise components and present in many foods,
  • it must have specific receptors independent of other basic tastes.

Umami taste is a new taste, in fact it was officially recognized as the fifth taste only in the 80s and in 2000 specific receptors able to distinguish it were identified on the tongue!


In the early 1900s, Kikunae Ikeda, professor at the Imperial University of Tokyo, interested in the relationship between the chemical structure of the substance and the respective smell and taste, noticed that in some typical foods of Japanese cuisine there was a taste not attributable to the 4 basic tastes then known. This taste was present in Katsobushi broth, a tuna broth, Kombu seaweed and dried Shiitake mushrooms and Professor Ikeda identified it as a unique taste, describing it as tasty and delicious and called it Umami which in Japanese means tasty.

The umami substance par excellence, first isolated by Professor Ikesa is monosodium glutamate. Subsequently, other molecules responsible for this taste were recognized which can be classified into two categories:

  • amino acids or peptides: among which we find monosodium L-glutamate, tricolomic acid and ibotenic acid
  • ribonucleotides: namely inosine 5'-monophosphate (IMP) and guanosine-5'-monophosphate (GMP).

Umami substances, even if present below the perception threshold, have the ability to enhance the flavor due to other components present in the food and for this reason they are defined flavor enhancers.

A peculiarity of these substances is the synergistic effect they have when used in combination with each other: in fact, the joint use in the same food of monosodium glutamate and one of the two ribonucleotides, causes a much greater umami effect than is expected. as the sum of the umami effects of the individual substances.

After its discovery, around the 1920s monosodium glutamate was introduced on the US market but did not immediately have great success, and only around the 1970s did these flavor enhancers begin to take hold both in America and in Europe.

Glutamate was initially produced by the hydrolysis of waste plant material with a high protein content and subsequently purified by crystallization. However, starting from the 1950s, glutamate was produced by fermentation of molasses by the microorganism Corinebacterium glutamicum, while in 1962 the production of ribonucleotides began after approval by the Food and Drugs Administration.

In recent years, the interest in umami taste has increased significantly and this is certainly because the consumption of ready-to-eat foods (rich in these flavor enhancers) has increased in society but also because awareness of the problems caused by consumption is expanding more and more excessive salt and consequently the number of people who choose to reduce the use of this condiment is growing by partially replacing it with flavor enhancers.

What are umami foods?

Glutamate is a derivative of glutamic acid, one of the amino acids that make up both vegetable and animal proteins. What has an umami effect, however, is the free glutamate and not that contained in the proteins: for example, two foods considered very umami are parmesan and raw ham in which, in both cases, a partial hydrolysis of the proteins takes place during curing with release of glutamate responsible for this taste. Other foods that contain large amounts of glutamate are mackerel, sea urchins, dried tuna but also tomatoes, potatoes and kombu.

Inosine monophosphate (IMP) is produced by decomposition of AMP (adenosine monophosphate) and we find it abundantly in sardines, anchovies and tuna while guanosine monophosphate (GMP), produced by enzymatic decomposition of RNA is present in high quantities in dried mushrooms and its content increases particularly with cooking!

Among the foods of vegetable origin characterized by the umami taste we find Shiitake mushrooms! Come and discover ours dried shiitake mushrooms and granulates and all IoBoscoVivo products that are not only good to taste but also very rich from a nutritional point of view!

Let us know if you liked this article or contact us for any information at the email: [email protected] or on our social networks: Facebook and Instagram. Also come to ours shop to discover the entire line of IoBoscoVivo products and fill up on vitamin D !!


  • Stańska, K., & Krzeski, A. (2016). The umami taste: from discovery to clinical use. Otolaryngologia polska = The Polish otolaryngology, 70 (4), 10–15. Available at https://doi.org/10.5604/00306657.1199991


  1. Umberto

    Interesting and comprehensive articles.

    1. IoBoscoVivo

      A thousand thanks!

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