In Japanese, “Umami” strictly speaking means “good flavour”, but it’s meant to capture more, describing a meaty, savoury taste.
It is used particularly of the taste sensations encountered in fermented and cured foods. What studies done into it so far seem to link it to the presence of glutamates, or more specifically, glutamic acid.
MSG — monosodium glutamate — adds Umami flavour to foods, and in fact was created for that purpose.
London restaurateur Laura Santini in 2010 started selling “Taste No 5 Umami Paste” a brownish paste made of several ingredients, sold in tubes, which all are high in glutamates to add instant Umami to any dish.
Brillat-Savarin, in his book The Physiology Of Taste, invented the word “osmosone” to describe meaty, savoury tastes.
The word Umami was coined by Kikunae Ikeda of the Tokyo Imperial University in 1908. He went on to create a way to synthesize MSG.
Moskin, Julia. Yes, MSG, the Secret Behind the Savor. New York Times. 5 March 2008.
Prince, Rose. Umami: ‘I tried it and now I want more, and more’. London. Daily Telegraph. 12 February 2010.