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Umami: The Fifth Taste

PHILADELPHIA, PA (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Most of us prefers food that’s sweet, salty, sour or bitter, but now, scientists say there is growing evidence that a fifth primary taste exists, one that most of us have never heard of, and even fewer of us can easily distinguish. It’s called “Umami”, from the Japanese word for “extremely yummy”. Researchers say the key to better nutrition may lie in our sense of taste.

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Think sweet, salty, sour or bitter and your favorite foods come to mind. Now, how about “Umami”?

“I’d never heard of it before.” Sabatino Campellone told Ivanhoe

Temple university biologist Greg Smutzer has designed a simple test to measure the five human tastes, including Umami. They’re much like commercial breath strips but each of these edible pieces contains a small amount of taste stimulus on it.

Broth, stews, tomatoes and fermented foods. That’s Umami. The Umami taste means amino acids are present, the building blocks of protein, and an essential nutrient for us.

Paul Breslin is a sensory geneticist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. Dr. Breslin and his team discovered that some people are more sensitive to the Umami taste.

“No two people are going to smell or taste the world in the same way, so I'm interested in understanding what genes are involved in this process, how they work.” Dr. Breslin said.

Dr. Breslin found that variations in three places on a taste receptor gene affect the strength of the Umami taste. He says if scientists can better understand how taste receptors detect amino acids-they may be able to improve the taste of dietary supplements, which are usually high in protein.

Dr. Breslin’s research also shows that taste is truly different for each individual. 5% of the subjects in a clinical taste test could not tell the difference between “Umami” and salt and for many others, the “Umami” flavor varied in intensity.

The Biophysical Society contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report. This report has also been produced thanks to a generous grant from the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, Inc.

Click here to Go Inside This Science or contact:

Leslie J. Stein, Ph.D.
Science Communications, Monell Center
Philadelphia, PA
stein@monell.org

Ellen Weiss
Director of Policy & Communications
Biophysical Society
(240) 290-5606
eweiss@biophysics.org


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