What's our 'fifth taste' and how could it make us feel full faster?


Man tasting soup in kitchen

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Progress in the research of taste and how it affects appetite and gratification with what we eat means that sweet, salty, bitter and sour have a new partner — umami.

Umami is the “fifth taste” that researchers recently discovered also affects how much we eat and how happy we are with that food.

A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a ‘fifth taste,’ the umami flavor, increases appetite and satisfaction post-consumption. Umami is commonly found in monosodium glutamate, or MSG. Researchers found that people ate less, felt full for a longer period of time and enjoyed the eating experience more when MSG was combined with a protein in a soup. For the study, subjects ate either an MSG high-protein soup or one without MSG and then several hours later received another meal to consume. The latter group ate less and reported being satiated longer, according to the study.

Umami is an abstract taste used predominantly in Japanese or Chinese cooking, canned vegetables and soups, or processed foods when protein is cooked or fermented. Basically, its glutamate broken down, which is what MSG is. Its taste is associated more closely with savory than with salty or bitter, and it is hard to determine when present in food. The umami research, while similar to past studies that conclude that taste is linked to appetite, is part of the bigger picture that food consumption is triggered by the flavors that we taste.

Tasty science

Umami has baffled foodies and scientists alike for more than 100 years. For much of that time period, its taste was beyond description and therefore the satisfaction felt when consumed was written off as being in one’s head. More important, umami is the taste that chefs often use to critical acclaim.

We understand if you’re confused. It appears that glutamate, whether called umami or MSG, has a brand battle going on. MSG – which is linked to lazy, overly processed cooking, overconsumption and a litany of health issues (including headache, stomachache, nausea, sweating, rapid heartbeat, chest pain, numbness and generally just illness) — is something feared by the general public. Umami, on the other hand, is celebrated by foodies as a desirable flavor that is artfully applied to a dish. Still confused? Us too — MSG is a harmful additive or a flavor-enriching taste, depending on what research you read.