Yeast extract is popular primarily because of its hearty umami taste; the fifth taste besides sweet, sour, salty and bitter. It was discovered by Ikeda Kikunae, a Japanese chemist who researched food at the beginning of the 20th century and named the aroma after the Japanese adjective ‘delicious’. We were curious and wanted to know more, so we interviewed Prof. Toshihide Nishimura from Kagawa Nutrition University in Japan.
Prof. Nishimura is a nutritional scientist and expert on umami. In the interview he explains why the word umami has two meanings in Japanese: how it tastes and how it acts as a signal in the human body: “Research now assumes that umami stimulates the digestion of proteins in the gastrointestinal tract. For example, breast milk contains a lot of protein. This may mean that glutamic acid in milk is a signal for the digestion of milk protein”.