Umami Information Center


Interview about umami in RTVE- Spanish National Radio Program

June 2013

The Umami Information Center held a umami workshop at Casa Asia in Barcelona, Spain in autumn of 2010. Three years has passed and Mr. Yolanda Flecha of RTVE who was at the workshop gave us a call to make an interview with Dr. Ana San Gabriel regarding umami. Along with three other professionals such as medical doctor, anthropologist and sommelier, Dr. San Gabriel explained the history of umami research and answered Yolanda's questions which covered from umami levels in natural ingredients to scientific information of umami substances. The Umami Information Center appreciates RTVE for offering such a good opportunity to deliver information on umami over the country of Spain. Taking advantage of this program, we hope more people got interested in umami.

For the original Spanish version, please visit the RTVE official site:

Here is a report from Dr. Ana San Gabriel. (Original: Spanish)

Transcript of Spanish RTVE Radio Program about Taste

This program is about the health of body and mind in Radio 5, RTVE.

Today, we'll talk about the sense of taste, the sensation we experience when we eat foods, and all the factors related to taste including other senses, specially smell. We'll start with the five primary tastes, yes, you're hearing right, five, because to the four that everyone knows, sweet, bitter, salty and sour, we need to add the fifth taste, umami that we are going to explore in depth today. This taste is very present in our Iberico ham.

Yolanda Flecha, Program director Many think that good taste is a subjective matter and relates to fashion and education. But we will talk about another taste, the taste of foods.
We eat because we need food to maintain our body, but to eat is much more than to ingest food or for the biological need, eating is full of symbols and traditions.
Invited speakers:
Pilar Riobo, Medical Doctor specialized in endocrinology and nutrition.
Jesus Contreras, Professor of social anthropology in the University of Barcelona
Javier Gila, president of the Madrid society of sommeliers

Umami taste
Let's discover now what the fifth savory taste present in many foods is.
Sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami; many of you may not know yet that to the familiar four basic tastes one more was added around a century ago, the umami taste that is has been more and more integrated in vanguard restaurants.
Kikunae Ikeda was the Japanese Scientists who in 1908 discovered that glutamate was the amino acid responsible for this different taste that he called umami coming from the Japanese word umai, delicious.
The UIC is in charge to research about umami taste, which is located in Japan. We are going to Tokyo to introduce the scientists Ana San Gabriel.

Yolanda- Good morning.

Ana- Good morning.

Yolanda- Can we talk about umami as the 5th basic taste from a scientific point of view?

Ana- Yes, since the year 2000 and 2002, there were two key scientific publications and now there is no doubt that umami is the 5th basic taste.

Yolanda- But is the 5th basic taste or an enhancer of the other 4?

Ana- It is a 5th basic taste. We are studying the possibility of other substances that enhance the basic tastes, but in the case of umami is a 5th basic taste.

Yolanda- What is umami made of?

Ana- Umami is the taste of the chicken soup, this is the easiest way I have to describe umami taste. The representative molecule of umami, like sugar is to sweet glutamate is to umami. But glutamate is not the only molecule that gives umami, there are other amino acids like aspartate and nucleotides such as guanilate and inosinate.

Yolanda- The essence is in glutamate even though is not the only one?

Ana- Basically is the most representative molecule.

Yolanda- Glutamate can be found artificially in food or can be found in natural form as well?

Ana- It can be found added as an additive and is natural in specially cured or fermented foods. For example, our star product is the Iberico ham; the longer is the maturation process the higher is its content of glutamate and more savory becomes.

Yolanda- The Iberico or Serrano ham, would represent an emblem of umami?

Ana- Yes, but the commercial ham from regular supermarkets has about the same amount of glutamate than the tomato. It is the artisan or traditional product of high quality with a long fermentation process, more than a year that is rich in glutamate. We have analyzed it and the ham has the same amount of glutamate than parmesan cheese, about 1 g/ 100g.

Yolanda- what foods are, or contain umami?

Ana- Many vegetables, tomatoes, broccoli, peas... vegetables are the source of glutamate and meats the source of inosinate, their combination gives umami taste in soup stocks, every country makes their own traditional soup stock.

Yolanda- Umami is also associated with salty appetizers like fried potatoes.

Ana- Yes.

Yolanda- Is the content of glutamate high in these appetizers?

Ana- I don't know specifically how much glutamate is added to these products but I know that are products with a high sodium content, and some have added MSG.

Yolanda- The Mediterranean diet is rich in umami? Because you live in Japan but I'm sure you know the about the Mediterranean diet.

Ana- Yes, I think so, especially in Spain where we have the Paella with fish stock and a base of tomato that is rich in umami. So in Spain, although we are not conscious about it, we are exposed to the umami taste very often.

Yolanda- Chinese and Japanese are more conscious about umami taste because they use it in their kitchens?

Ana- It's not so much because they use it in their cuisine, but because Japanese cuisine is low in fat and the only way to give taste to their dishes is with umami because they don't use much oil. The stocks they prepare based on fish products and seaweed are pure umami, they contain free amino acids, mostly glutamate, and nucleotide such as inosinate.

Yolanda- Everything that is umami is attractive to us, do we get a mouth-watery sensation?

Ana-Yes, in the appropriate amount induces salivary secretion so it is literally as if we were getting water in the mouth.

Yolanda- How to recognize it?

Ana- We do a lot of demonstrations in the UIC, for example, take a very ripe tomato and chew it slowly. After the sweetness and sourness and chewing about 30 times, it is the sensation of touch on the tongue that lasts for a long time which can also be strongly detected with the Serrano ham.

Yolanda- Is it perceived in a particular region of the tongue?

Ana- In principle, all taste papillae have receptors for umami, the taste map it's now obsolete, but the back of the tongue and soft palate is the most sensitive to umami, when you are going to swallow the food.

Yolanda- Are there age changes with umami taste?

Ana- There are clear results for sweet and salty taste, but with the umami there are not enough studies to see a change in preference with age, but the amniotic fluid and breast milk are rich in glutamate, and the amount of glutamate in soup stocks is similar to the amount in breast milk, is curious, as if we liked a familiar taste.

Yolanda- Can all animals detect umami?

Ana- The panda can't detect umami because it contains a pseudo-gene for the umami receptor, may be because he only ingests bamboo and may not need it. Some dolphins or fishes that do not chew their pray also don't have receptors for umami, but the number is limited.

Yolanda- We are talking about very recent research, right?

Ana- Everything happened in the last decade.

Yolanda- Who gave the first step and why?

Ana- The concept started in 1908 by a Japanese professor who went to study in Germany where he tasted tomatoes and asparagus for the first time; they were not present in Japan at that time. He identified a similar taste to the soup stocks he experienced in Kyoto. After returning to Japan, he isolated the compound responsible for the taste from seaweed. It was glutamate and named this new taste sensation umami, coming from the Japanese word umai that means delicious.
From there, there was a lot of discussion about umami experts thought that umami was only a Japanese concept until the receptor was discovered together with the acknowledgement that glutamate was part of many foods.

Yolanda- And umami research has multiplied over the years.

Ana- Yes.

Yolanda- Studies like the ones Ana San Gabriel directed in the UIC who is in Japan but has a very interesting home page where it is possible to find all information about the umami taste.
Many thanks for attending this phone call.

Ana- It has been a pleasure.