Everybody knows these four tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. But did you know there was a fifth one? Well, don’t feel too bad; it wasn’t even recognized by the scientific community until the eighties. The fifth taste is called umami（鲜味）, which is a Japanese word meaning something like “delicious taste.”
Inside of our mouths we have the ability to perceive five different tastes. Each of these tastes has a reason for being there. Essentially, tongues have evolved to make us want the things we need to survive and not like the things we need to avoid. For instance, when you are eating something sweet, the sensation is telling your brain that you are getting energy. If you are eating something bitter, it is transmitting the message that you may need to be careful to your brain. However, through social training we can learn to like some bitter things like coffee or tea. Umami is made up of glutamic acid, one of the amino acids, which is part of blocks of protein. Our taste for umami is our body’s way of perceiving protein, which of course is very necessary for our survival.
If we understand umami better, we can better understand why we crave certain things. It also helps explain why we like to put tomato paste in our stew or soy sauce in a marinade. Moreover, having a good knowledge of umami can make you a better cook.