There are four basic tastes – salty, sweet, sour and bitter. Many scientieist and modern food writers now add a fifth flavour – umami. The word derives from the Japanese “umai” meaning “tasty” but in many respects umami is either an oxymoron “tasty-taste” (surely not!) or unhelpful, “delicious” taste? Deliciousness is not just the reserve of this new taste – sweet, sour and bitter dishes, afterall, can be equally delicious.
Savoury would be a better translation of what scientists (and as we shall see later industry) are trying to persuade us is the fifth taste. Savoury is a word well understood by everyone in the English speaking world and in most people’s mind savoury is deemed a salty taste not a separate taste – and for good reason. Savoury dishes can not exist without salt and salt on it’s own requires a savoury flavour to be palatable. Indeed, the on-line Oxford English Dictionary states that “savoury” “belongs to a category which is salty or spicy rather than sweet.” Thus for linguistic, as opposed to scientific reasons, umami, in this book at least, will not be recognised as the “fifth” taste. Rather, it is slotted under the heading “saltiness”. (For more on umami and how it is a relatively modern invention see below).