These days, monosodium glutamate (MSG) is doing more than spicing up Asian food. It's giving scientists a taste of how the tongue recognizes flavors.
Scientists have struggled for many years to identify taste receptors—proteins on the surface of the tongue's taste cells that recognize flavor-producing chemicals in food. "The effort . . . has not been very rewarding up to now," says taste researcher Bernd Lindemann from Saar University in Homburg, Germany.
Researchers from the University of Miami School of Medicine report in the February Nature Neuroscience that they have identified the cell receptor specific for a taste called umami, the distinctive flavor of MSG.
Some scientists say that along with the four familiar tastes—salty, sweet, sour, and bitter—umami is a basic flavor recognized by the tongue. Loosely translated from Japanese, umami means delicious or yummy. Umami is the savory, meaty flavor of parmesan cheese, mushroo