Who found umami?

It was a Japanese scientist who found umami.

Professor Kikunae IkedaUmami Information Center

the fifth taste is found by a Japanese scientist

There were long thought to be just four basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Then a scientist in Japan - Professor Kikunae Ikeda of Tokyo Imperial University (now the University of Tokyo) - noticed the presence of a taste that did not fit into any of these categories. Professor Ikeda discovered the main taste component in kombu dashi (broth or stock) to be glutamate, and dubbing it “umami,” penned an academic paper explaining the existence of umami as one of the basic tastes.

Ikeda's leading pupil, Shintaro Kodama, followed up on his predecessor's work to discover inosinic acid as the source of umami in dried bonito shavings (katsuo-bushi). In addition, Dr. Akira Kuninaka discovered that guanylic acid, a product of nucleic acid degradation, also served as an umami substance.

All three of these umami substances were discovered by Japanese scientists.

Dr. Ikeda while studying in GermanyOriginal Source: Dr. Ikeda

the Fifth Basic Taste While in Germany

Dr. Kikunae Ikeda, the first person to identify the source of umami, was born in Kyoto in 1864, in the final years of the Edo Period (1600–1868).

He had always loved science: in 1889 he graduated from the Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science at the Imperial University (currently The University of Tokyo), and in 1896 he became a professor at the same department.

Three years later in 1896, Ikeda studied at Leipzig University in Germany with Japanese national government financial support, specializing in physical chemistry as a pupil of Professor Wilhelm Ostwald who would later go on to receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Ikeda was surprised at the physical size and nutritional conditions of German people at the time, and he developed a strong desire to improve the nutritional status of Japanese people back home.

He also tried tomatoes, asparagus, meat and cheese for the first time while in Germany, and through these experiences he sensed that another basic taste was present in foods aside from the four currently recognized tastes of sweetness, sourness, saltiness and bitterness.

This realization would prompt his later research into umami.

Dr. Kikunae Ikeda with his familyUmami Information Center

Taste Present in Asparagus and Dashi-flavored Boiled Tofu

After returning to Japan in October 1901, Ikeda began working as a professor at the Tokyo Imperial University (the new name of the Imperial University).

He felt a renewed sense of purpose as a scientist, considering it his mission to create and commercialize a seasoning product that would solve the problem of insufficient nutrition among the Japanese people and make plain-flavored, nutritional diets more appetizing.

In the spring of 1907, he encountered the initial inspiration that would lead to his discovery of umami, provided by his wife Tei's purchase of a bundle of kelp.

While eating a dish of boiled tofu flavored with dashi cooking stock made from this kelp, Ikeda noticed that the same taste he had detected in asparagus, cheese and other foods in Germany was also present in the kelp dashi.

This was a brand new taste, not included in the established four basic tastes of sweetness, sourness, saltiness and bitterness. Between teaching duties at the university, Ikeda began research efforts to elucidate this unique taste constituent in kelp.

Dr. Ikeda's research note and glutamic acidUmami Information Center

Ikeda's research notes 

boiled down and extracted liquid concentrates from kelp and used them to search
for the root of umami.

an attempt to isolate the umami element, he chilled the extracts and tried
removing inorganic salts, Mannit (the white powdery substance on the surface of
kelp, a type of low-sweetness sugar), and other constituents from the
concentrates in order to isolate umami, but he couldn't seem to find what he
was looking for.

much effort, in February 1908 he succeeded in extracting approximately 30 grams
of the umami substance from 12 kilograms of kelp, and analysis revealed this
substance to be glutamic acid. Ikeda then gave it the name "umami."

around that time, Ikeda had just read and found himself highly impressed by an
academic paper titled "Delicious Flavor Promotes Better Digestion of
Foods," written by Dr. Hiizu Miyake who was head of the Department of
Medical Science, Faculty of Science at Tokyo Imperial University. This along
with his recent discovery inspired him to create a high-quality seasoning, to
be sold at a low price, which could make foods taste better and improve the
nutritional status of Japanese people.

Sabrosuke SuzukiUmami Information Center

Finds a New Partner in Saburosuke Suzuki

man from the town of Hayama (near Yokosuka City), who had heard of Ikeda's
experiments, decided to pay the doctor a visit in his laboratory.

man, Sanrosuke Suzuki, was the head of Suzuki Seiyakusho Co. (known today as
Ajinomoto Co., Inc.) which produced iodine using seaweed.


desire to turn the umami substance glutamic acid into a seasoning product that
would improve the nutritional health of Japanese people began to transform from
a vision into a reality thanks to his meeting with Suzuki, a figure with many
years of experience in navigating the market and its intricacies.

on advice from Suzuki, Ikeda set out on additional research efforts to develop
a seasoning product using glutamic acid as the base ingredient.

conducted experiments to neutralized glutamic acid, made variants including
monosodium glutamate, monopotassium glutamate and others, and confirmed the
taste of each. Ultimately, he determined that monosodium glutamate made the
ideal seasoning product, as it was readily soluble in water, did not absorb and
retain moisture, and had a smooth and powdery texture. This monosodium
glutamate—commonly known as MSG—became the umami seasoning Ikeda had been
working to achieve.

September 1908, Ikeda and Suzuki together made the decision to release this new
umami-based seasoning product to the world.

Umami seasoning as of launcedUmami Information Center

At last, in May 1909, Ikeda the scientist and Suzuki the industrialist debuted their umami seasoning product.

Ikeda's vision spreads around the worldUmami Information Center

Vision Spreads Around the World

Ikeda once said, "I have absolutely no doubt that this product, which can prove useful even in the West, will become an indispensable daily good by anyone who tries using it just once."

He also wrote, "[This product] will make meals more delicious for all of the approximately one billion people in the Japanese sphere of cultural influence."

True to these words, Ikeda's umami product was exported to Taiwan starting in 1914, to China starting in 1918, and to the United States starting in the 1920s, where it became known as a gourmet seasoning powder.

Even today's, his product is used in homes and restaurants all around the world.

Credits: Story

Umami Information Center

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Google apps