Learning about the four tastes – sweet, salty, sour, bitter – was one of the more interesting science lessons in primary school. But in reality, humans can sense the fifth taste, and it's known as umami, named for the Japanese scientist who discovered it during the early 20th century. The flavor is present in all foods and does not only exist in the items you'd buy at a Japanese market. If you haven't already learned about umami and are interested, try sipping some clear chicken broth while holding your nose. It might sound like an odd thing to do, but it will allow you to sense the flavor through specific tastebuds.
Most people describe umami as savory tasting, and anyone studying food and recipes from the past may know about it. In ancient Europe, for example, a fermented fish sauce known as garum was in wide use. Asian cooks invented soy sauce for similar reasons. But in the modern world, the scientific community refused to accept the existence of umami as a real fifth taste until the 1980s. The proof comes from the Japanese scientist who isolated it as an amino acid from kelp. His work paved the way for it to be understood and accepted. Sensing it is part of how humans know what to eat or not.
As the study and understanding of umami have increased, it's been pointed out that breast milk is high in amino acids. Therefore, sensing it is part of our earliest taste memories. Despite the fact most people refer to umami as a savory taste, it is present in foods that are not salty. You'll taste it in baked goods for dual reasons: the first is that butter is high in amino acids, and the second is that they occur naturally when you brown flour and sugar. Wonder why you find baked good so irresistible to eat? It's umami.
Even though it has received much bad press as a questionable food additive, monosodium glutamate (MSG) is umami. But people today prefer to achieve umami naturally rather than adding MSG because of allergies and other good reasons. As you learn more about them, it is easy to find food rich in umami, and it's what the best cooks do to prepare delicious foods. You'll find amino acids in butter, along with many types of meat, seafood, vegetables, and fruits. It's only a question of learning how to unlock their flavor. When you do, you'll be preparing better tasting meals that your friends and family will enjoy.