For most of human history, we had no way of identifying what made certain dishes so delicious. We could describe sour, sweet, bitter, and salty sensations, but not savory. That is, until 1908, when Kikunae Ikeda discovered the fifth taste — umami. Umami is the essence of savory, giving life to some of the world’s most delectable ingredients like meat, soy sauce, and fish paste.
That same year, Ikeda identified the molecular happenings that take our taste buds on this journey. In short, he found that an amino acid called glutamate is largely responsible. Scientists have since expanded on Ikeda’s findings, saying there are nucleotides found in many foods that, when combined with amino acids, intensify the umami experience. It’s this interaction that gives alcohol and meat pairings so much depth, as the amino acids in alcohol pair exceptionally well with the nucleotides found in all meat.