What is the best source for umami

Umami: the fifth quality of taste

Last change:
Written by Astrid Clasen • Medical editor

Our content is based on well-founded scientific sources that reflect the currently recognized state of medical knowledge. We work closely with medical experts.

Learn more

Umami is - next to sweet, sour, salty and bitter - the fifth scientifically recognized taste quality. Find out everything you need to know about the umami taste here.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Japanese researcher Ikeda discovered a new flavor and referred to it as umami: This has roughly the meaning of deliciousness or good taste. The umami taste is often described in German as hearty and spicy, similar to meat broth.

Umami Flavor Receptors

For the perception of taste, humans have special sensory cells with taste receptors. There are separate receptors for every taste quality. Also for umami: since the discovery of the umami receptors in 2000, the fifth flavor has finally been recognized. Each sense cell is therefore specialized in a certain quality of taste.

The taste sensory cells are located in groups in the taste buds, which are mainly located on the tongue. Each taste bud contains different sensory cells. That is why all taste buds can perceive the five flavors sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami.

Reading tip:The sense of taste & other functions of the tongue

What is umami?

Glutamic acid and its salts, known as glutamate, are responsible for the umami taste. To a lesser extent, aspartic acid umami is also tasty. Both are protein building blocks (amino acids) and therefore a natural component of many proteins in food and in some plants.

Umami - which foods taste like that?

Typical examples of umami-flavored foods are ripe tomatoes, yeast, parmesan, meat, anchovies, olives, porcini mushrooms and soy sauce. All of these foods, like human breast milk, are naturally rich in glutamine.

Asparagus is one of the foods whose umami taste comes from the natural content of aspartic acid.

Glutamic acid and glutamate are considered to be flavor enhancers. That is why umami-flavored foods are very popular ingredients to spice up dishes - especially in concentrated form such as tomato paste, fish sauce or soy sauce.

A combination of foods rich in glutamine is also available in stores as a spice paste. The main ingredients of this umami paste are anchovies, olives, parmesan cheese and porcini mushrooms. Since these are only natural ingredients, they do not have to be labeled as flavor enhancers.

Recipe tip:Make umami spice yourself - vegan recipe with 3 ingredients

Artificial umami flavor

The umami taste can also be created using artificially produced glutamic acid and glutamates (E 620 to E 625). These approved food additives are used in food production, for example in ready-made seasonings or ready-made meals.

Labeling requirement: when and why?

Packaged foods to which glutamic acid or glutamate has been added must be labeled: The word "flavor enhancer" plus the name of the substance (e.g. monosodium glutamate) or the corresponding E number (e.g. E 21) must be on the packaging. A corresponding note is also required for loose goods as well as in canteens and restaurants (e.g. on the menu).

Would you like to eat more consciously?

We would be happy to help you with this. The Onmeda nutrition guide accompanies you week after week on your way to a healthier life. With tips, helpful information and delicious recipes.

Some people are hypersensitive to foods that contain artificially produced glutamic acid and glutamates: They temporarily experience a tingling sensation and / or a feeling of heat in the throat, headaches or palpitations. The labeling requirement is intended to help those affected avoid such foods.

Glutamic acid and glutamate are considered to be harmless to health as long as you only consume the usual amounts of them with food.

Reading tip:Flavor enhancer - glutamate & Co.

There is no labeling requirement if food manufacturers use natural additives to create the umami taste. The names of such flavor enhancers that are not subject to labeling only have to be in the list of ingredients. Examples are:

  • yeast
  • Yeast extract
  • Yeast flakes
  • autolyzed yeast
  • hydrolyzed yeast
  • hydrolyzed vegetable protein
  • Protein isolates
  • Soy extracts

By the way: In Asian cuisine, glutamate has been known as a flavor enhancer for much longer than in Europe. There the flavor enhancer is traditionally used in larger quantities than in this country to underline the umami taste of dishes.

Glutamate. Online information from the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR): www.bfr.bund.de (accessed: 19.01.2021)

Umami - the fifth flavor. Online information from the Bavarian State Ministry for the Environment and Consumer Protection (publisher): www.vis.bayern.de (as of October 30, 2020)

How does the sense of taste work? Online information from the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG): www.gesundheitsinformation.de (as of August 17, 2016)

Faller, A., Schünke, M .: The human body. Thieme, Stuttgart 2016

Gekle, M., et al .: Pocket Textbook Physiology. Thieme, Stuttgart 2015

Last content check:19.01.2021
Last change: 19.01.2021