Thursday, October 27, 2011


Umami \oo-MAH-mee\ , noun;
1. A strong meaty taste imparted by glutamate and certain other amino acids, often considered to be one of the basic taste sensations along with sweet, sour, bitter, and salty

I have needed this word for the last eight and a half months, and I just happened upon it yesterday. My whole pregnancy I've been asked about weird cravings, but really I haven't had any...except umami, but I lacked a good, concise way of saying it. Now I know, with only a couple weeks (at most) to use it. Sigh. I'll have to remember for next time.

This word is first attested in 1979 from Japanese umami, which dates to at least 1721 from uma- + -mi ("delicious" + suffix to form abstract nouns from adjectives). Sometimes umami is used to mean monosodium glutamate, also known as MSG.

Since we're on the topic of MSG, I have a story for you. A couple years ago I spent a year teaching English in China (here's my blog on the experience). I don't really speak Chinese very well and my character reading is really awful, which occasionally got me into trouble (though not as often as one might think). Anyway, at one point I was coming down with something and had a really, really sore throat. Not wanting to take a crack at the pharmaceuticals quite yet, I decided to gargle some hot salt water to try and clear it up. I went to the store and there were about 8 packages that LOOKED like salt, but from the characters they were clearly different from each other. I hemmed and hawed for a while and finally picked one. I took it home and gargled with it and it tasted really weird. Kind of like chicken stock or something similar. I figured Chinese long-grain salt was weird. Fast forward a few days, I finally get around to looking up the characters on the bag. Lo and behold, I had been gargling MSG the whole time.

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