What is umami and what does it have to do with whiskey?
Twenty months and nine days ago I wrote an article to answer that question. Here’s an excerpt:
What is umami?
Your tongue senses 5 different tastes – sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. In 1908, Japanese professor Kikunae Ikeda first scientifically identified umami. I say “scientifically identified” because people have been cooking with and enjoying umami since the beginning of human history. But it didn’t have a name until professor Ikeda gave it one. He combined the words umai “delicious” and mi “taste.” Why? Probably because when umami is present, food tastes delightful and your tongue loves it.
What causes the umami taste? An amino acid called glutamate. If that’s not ringing a bell, you’ll probably recognize it’s condensed and packaged form called MSG – monosodium glutamate.
When you read tasting notes on a whiskey and it says “umami,” does that mean the distiller put MSG in your whiskey? No. Glutamate is naturally occurring in food. Some fruits and vegetables contain glutamate, but it mostly comes from cooking meat or fermentation.
Interesting history, but it raises some questions.
What does umami taste like?
How does it apply to whiskey?
And what are the benefits of learning to pick out umami in whiskey?
— Zac Smith