Umami is one of the proposed five basic tastes sensed by specialized receptor cells present on the human tongue. The same taste is also known as xianwèi in Chinese cooking.
Umami is a Japanese word meaning “savory” or “deliciousness” and applies to the sensation of savoriness, specifically to the detection of the natural amino acid, glutamic acid, or glutamates common in meats, cheese and other protein-heavy foods. The action of umami receptors explains why foods treated with monosodium glutamate (MSG) often taste “heartier”.
Umami was first identified as a taste in 1908 by Kikunae Ikeda of the Tokyo Imperial University while researching the strong flavor in seaweed broth.