Umami, in celebration of the 110th year since its discovery, was the focus of the World Umami Forum, which took place in New York City, September 20-21, 2018.
The research on umami started as early as the 1900s, with Dr. Kikunae Ikeda finding the substance responsible for the taste in the broth of kelp (kombu in Japanese). With extraordinary insight, Dr. Ikeda recognized that this taste was common to the taste of the tomatoes and asparagus he ate during his stay in Germany. Also, he wanted to contribute to society by improving the nutrition of the Japanese people. In an exceptional purification process, he found that the component responsible for the taste of the soup from kelp was glutamate and called this new taste “umami,” which is also known in English as savory taste. With his remarkable skills in chemistry, he succeeded in transforming glutamate from kelp into an easy-to-use seasoning that was rich in umami taste. In 1908, he was granted a patent for the method to manufacture the umami seasoning, which soon became popularly known as MSG (monosodium glutamate).
In commemoration of this significant achievement, the inaugural World Umami Forum gathered food science experts, renowned researchers, journalists, registered dietitians, and culinary professionals from all over the world to share many aspects about umami taste. Participants were familiar with umami but achieved a better understanding and appreciation of the taste and its essential role in cuisine.
The conference opened with the remarks of Mr. Takaaki Nishii, CEO and President of Ajinomoto Co., Inc. (Aji), “As the world celebrates the 110th anniversary of the discovery of umami, Ajinomoto Co., Inc. – the world’s first and leading manufacturer of MSG – is excited to continue to bring delicious flavor to global cuisines. MSG, the purest form of umami, was introduced to the U.S. market in 1917 with a vision of a new way to bring taste to everyone’s kitchen.”
Aji’s mission, said Mr. Nishii, is to “improve nutrition through delicious meals, and science shows MSG is an important ingredient for this purpose.”
Andrew Zimmern (@andrewzimmern), the popular chef and television personality (Food Network, Travel Channel), as the master of ceremonies, explained how umami’s use in cooking around the world is universal. (See a world map of umami-rich foods.)
In celebration of umami, the World Umami Forum featured thought-stimulating topics in an impressive lineup of presenters, who are recognized experts in their respective fields (full list of presenters). The audience of professionals was reminded of the importance of umami in infants, probably due to the high levels of glutamate, an amino acid, in mother’s milk, and how it has been established over 30 years of scientific research that the umami seasoning is safe to consume. The Forum reinforced the idea that the glutamate from MSG seasoning and the glutamate occurring naturally in foods such as tomatoes and parmesan cheese is the same. The human body treats glutamate in exactly the same way whatever its source.
All participants in the Forum learned firsthand about the benefits of MSG, including the role of MSG in a reduced-sodium diet, by tasting a low salt vegetable soup and experiencing the marvelous effect that a small amount of MSG can do in bringing up the taste with a minimal addition of sodium. At the end, a panel of experts discussed the role of umami in nutrition, focusing on the latest research and the challenges of evaluating the benefits of umami for appetite control.
To Learn More:
Here are some materials, which were distributed at the World Umami Forum, that are suitable for downloading:
- 5 Facts to Know About Umami (pdf)
- Characteristics of Umami Taste (pdf)
- Umami: The Science and Lore of Healthy Eating (published by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics)
- Monosodium Glutamate: Beyond the Controversy (pdf)
- Glutamate: The Purest Taste of Umami (pdf)
- FAQs about MSG
- Umami Culture Around the World
- Umami-Rich Recipes and Recipes with Umami Ingredients