In elementary school science class we all learned about the four basic tastes that our taste buds can detect: sour, bitter, salty and sweet. There is also a fifth taste called umami. It’s a word borrowed from the Japanese language that describes a savory or meaty taste. It can be a be a bit hard to describe but seaweed, mushrooms, and aged cheeses are all examples of foods with umami.
MSG, aka monosodium glutamate, is an amino acid that is naturally found in our bodies as well as in food. MSG is commonly used as an additive to enhance the savory effect of umami in food. It’s hotly debated whether or not MSG is bad for us. I won’t get into all of that because this is a tea blog. Feel free to Google “Chinese restaurant syndrome” if you feel like being buried in fanatical internet commentary.
So, what does all of this have to do with tea? Green tea happens to be rich in glutamate. Theanine, another amino acid found in tea, is also very similar in structure to MSG. Theanine is believed to contribute to the sweetness of a tea. Catechin antioxidants are responsible for bitter tastes while caffeine causes us to experience astringency. Glutamate gives us the savory flavor that can best be described as umami. Other categories of tea may contain some the levels won’t be as high due to the chemical reactions caused by oxidation and processing.
|Japanese green teas are usually higher in glutamate|