Kikunae Ikeda had been thinking a lot about soup. The Japanese chemist had been studying a broth made of seaweed and scales of dried fish called dashi. The dashi has a very specific flavor - warm, salty - and through extensive and laborious separations in a chemical laboratory, Ikeda had been trying to isolate the molecules behind their distinctive flavor. I was sure there was some connection between the shape of a molecule and the perception of the flavor it produces in humans.
But since that was only a few years after the beginning of the twentieth century, there was still not much evidence to support that idea. Over time, Ikeda succeeded in isolating an important flavor molecule from marine dashi algae: the amino acid glutamate, a key component of proteins.
In a 1909 newspaper, the professor of the Imperial University of Tokyo suggested that the tasty sensation caused by glutamate should be one of the basic flavors, along with the sweet, sour, bitter and salty. He called it "umami," a Japanese word that means "delicious."
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