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The man who discovered umami

the Tokyo Imperial University
the US Food and Drug Administration
the Umami Information Center (UIC
BBC Future
Culture, Capital

Getty Images)In
Harold McGee


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The New York Times
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He felt sure that there was some connection between a molecule’s shape and the flavour perception it produced in humans.But as it was just a few years past the turn of the 19th Century, there was not yet a great deal of evidence to support the idea.Eventually, Ikeda did manage to isolate an important taste molecule from the seaweed in dashi: the amino acid glutamate, a key building block of proteins. “If these substances can be likened to color, ‘umami’ would be yellow and sweetness red.” It was not exactly your standard scientific fare.Seaweed, a staple of Japanese cuisine, is one food associated with the umami taste (Credit: Getty Images)But more than a hundred years later, scientists around the world now acknowledge that umami is real, and just as much a basic taste as the others. Looking closer at the nerves sending messages from the mouth to the brain suggested that umami and salt were operating via different channels.A great deal of the recognition for Ikeda’s insights probably came from the discovery, about 20 years ago, that there are specific receptors in taste buds that pick up on amino acids.

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