“Umami” becomes Essential Historical Material for Science and Technology

  • Kentaro Sato (Project Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry)
Figure 1

Prof. Hasegawa, holding the certificate

It is no secret that the true identity of “Umami”, a taste of a daily essential in Japan, is sodium glutamate. Umami's identity was discovered in 1908 by Dr. Kikunae Ikeda who was a professor of science at Tokyo Imperial University (old name of The University of Tokyo). At that time, the taste of “Umami” was not recognized in the US and Europe, and it is said that people were amazed by the discovery.

The method of manufacturing sodium glutamate, which was developed by Prof. Ikeda, was industrialized, and became widely popular among the general public. Not only was the discovery of Umami academically important, it was a significant milestone in the history of chemical industry.

The first memorable sodium glutamate, isolated and bottled by Prof. Ikeda, is still treasured. Recently, this bottle has been designated as one of the “Essential Historical Material for Science and Technology” by the National Museum of Nature and Science, which aims to preserve and utilize the technical materials that had significant impact on the lives of the people and the economy of Japan. So far, 22 products that blazed a trail in each field have been chosen.

On 6 October 2009, a certificate ceremony for “Umami” was held at the National Museum of Nature and Science. Prof. Tetsuya Hasegawa, Head of Department of Chemistry, attended the ceremony and received a certificate and a commemorative shield. It is significant that a chemical compound developed a hundred years ago was designated as one of the “Essential Historical Material for Science and Technology”, along with the products such as video, TV, Shinkansen (bullet train) that support everyday life. I hope that Umami will be remembered for a long time as an example of chemical discovery that changed the world.