Choose Between Two Options
$29 for dinner for two ($60.35 value)
- One appetizer ($9.95 value)
- Two entrees ($45.90 value)
- Two nonalcoholic drinks ($4.50 value)
$59 for dinner for four ($120.70 value)
- Two appetizers ($19.90 value)
- Four entrees ($91.80 value)
- Four nonalcoholic drinks ($9 value)
Umami: Science of a Hidden Flavor
Sour, sweet, bitter, and salty don’t cover the entirety of human taste. Let Groupon teach you about a fifth flavor only recently recognized by science.
In a single bite of sushi, you’re likely to taste a kaleidoscope of flavors: the sweetness of pickled ginger, the sourness of rice vinegar, the saltiness of soy sauce. You may notice, however, that that salty quality isn’t quite the same as if you’d sprinkled on table salt or stored the fish in an empty potato-chip bag. There’s an extra dimension to the flavor, something richer and more satisfying. This is called umami, and it’s the fifth of the basic tastes perceived by the human tongue. (An obvious sixth, spicy, is generally discounted by flavor theorists as merely a skin reaction—splashing a drop of intense hot sauce on your arm, for instance, will cause a similar feeling to “tasting” it on the tongue.)
Umami’s discovery began not in a lab but at the dinner table. In 1907, Kikunae Ikeda was sitting down to a bowl of dashi, a broth made from dried kelp. The Tokyo Imperial University chemistry professor began to wonder what made the soup so irresistible. It didn’t taste like any of the four classic flavors or a combination of several; it was simply what he termed umami, based on the Japanese word for delicious. This curiosity led to years of chemistry experiments and unusual expense reports as Ikeda looked for the flavor of dashi in other world cuisines—cheese, meat, asparagus, and tomatoes all possessed this mysterious taste—and attempted to zero in on the one molecule these foods had in common. Finally, he discovered that what they all shared was glutamic acid, a protein that breaks down when cooking, fermenting, or ripening to form the essential amino acid L-glutamate.
L-glutamate explains much of the appeal of a properly cooked steak, an aged morsel of cheese, and, yes, a splash of soy sauce on a sushi roll. Because the glutamate molecules in the raw fish have not yet been broken down through cooking or aging, the L-glutamate lurking in the fermented soybeans fills in the missing heartiness and creates a blissful harmony of all five flavors.