In 2008, we have the opportunity to celebrate the centennial of MSG! In 1908, Japanese scientist Kikunae Ikeda isolated MSG—monosodium glutamate—and introduced the concept of a fifth taste: umami. I personally hadn’t heard of it until this past autumn and had been getting along just fine with salty, sour, sweet and bitter. Now suddenly my sense of contentment has been disturbed by the discovery of umami.
This taste sense is hardly new. The ancient Chinese had a symbol for it, the Japanese named it, and in English the idea comes close to “savory.” Ikeda’s contribution was working with seaweed broth to produce MSG, which makes meat taste, well, more like meat.