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How Do You Describe the Umami Taste?

Taste and good-tasting food

In some of the blogs here at, my fellow bloggers (all of whom are food and/or nutrition professionals) have discussed the fifth taste – umami – using various terms. We have also cited published articles that discuss the savoriness of the umami taste.

The author of an intriguing piece about umami, in Slate magazine, states, “The sensation itself is more obscure than that from the other basic tastes. Savory or meaty are often used to describe it. But if you sip some of those amino acids in a water solution, they won’t taste like much of anything. Often umami simply enriches other flavors. This effect is part of what makes pizza, with its umami-rich cheese-and-tomato combination, such a seductive, potent dish.”

Seductive and potent. Yes, and most pizza lovers would probably agree that there is something about pizza that makes it so appealing. In my opinion, it is the savoriness of the umami-rich ingredients that gives pizza its WOW factor.

For this blog, I have decided to search the Internet and look at some consumer message boards where I found an array of descriptions for both umami and savory. Some of the terms used are spot on while some (which I won’t use here) are way off target.

By sharing a few of the most appropriate descriptions that I found, you might be able to gain a better understanding of umami and its savory goodness.

Not sweet.

Not sour.

Not bitter.


Browned meat.

Bacon has it.

How about “onomatopoeia”? (see * below).

Do any of these terms/phrases resonate with you? Yes, no? Have you thought about what umami tastes like? Here’s a way to find out using a quick taste test that I learned from a chef: Take two eggs. The first one, scramble it (without any fat) in a non-stick frypan, with no salt, pepper or other flavoring ingredients. Then taste. Now for the second egg. Follow the same steps but this time, add a dash of monosodium glutamate (MSG) before tasting. What you are sensing is the savoriness of umami which is imparted by MSG. I love eggs with a touch of MSG in place of salt.

Indeed, the word umami is, in many ways, literally a mouthful according to an article in the Japan Times. “First coined in 1909 by Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda, the term translates roughly as “deliciousness.” With its satisfying, round consonants and open vowel sounds, the word approaches *onomatopoeia — a phonetic approximation of the gustatory pleasure to which it alludes.”

In just a few words, how would you describe how umami tastes? Let us know!

Kaye is an author and consulting nutritionist with more than 15 years’ experience representing clients in the food industry, providing strategic leadership and consulting on meal planning, recipe development, consumer-focused educational materials relating to food and nutrition, science-based communications, and media relations. Read more about her background on the About page.

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