Dr. Ikeda Discovers the Umami Taste
Dr. Kikunae Ikeda first studied Chemistry at Tokyo Imperial University, before going to further his studies abroad with Professor Ostwald (Nobel Prize Award Winner, 1909) at Leipzig University, Germany. Ikeda then returned to Japan where he became a Professor at Tokyo Imperial University. As well as playing a part in the establishment of basic physical chemistry in Japan, Ikeda was interested in improving the nutrition of the Japanese people. Japan was a developing country at that time and during his studies in Germany, Ikeda observed that Germans had a stronger physique and were taller than the Japanese. The first Japanese doctor of medicine and contemporary to Ikeda, Hiizu Miyake, hypothesized that “good taste stimulates digestion.” This encouraged Ikeda to find the substance responsible for the taste of kelp broth, frequently used in Kyoto where he was born. Ikeda recognized this taste as being common to the taste of the tomatoes and asparagus he ate in Germany for the first time.
With this in mind, Ikeda started research on the substances that are responsible for the taste in kelp (kombu in Japanese). He discovered that glutamate was a key component of the soup stock from kelp and called this new taste “umami” which is also known in English as savory taste. He succeeded in transforming glutamate from kelp into an easy-to-use seasoning that was rich in the umami taste. In 1908, he was granted a patent for the method to manufacture the seasoning, “The production method of seasoning, with glutamate as a key component.” One year later, Mr. Saburosuke Suzuki launched a business venture and with Ikeda’s patent went on to market the umami seasoning as AJI-NO-MOTO®. The Japan Patent Office selected Dr. Ikeda as one of Japan’s 10 greatest inventors for his discovery on the production of the umami seasoning. The commercialization of AJI-NO-MOTO®is regarded as one of the greatest collaborations between industry and academia in the Meiji era.