Difference Between Umami and Kokumi

There are, on average, about ten thousand taste buds on a human tongue, and the tongue can recognize five basic tastes namely sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami. Umami was added to this list much later, the word being coined in 1908. Kokumi is arguably a taste modifier.

Umami vs Kokumi

The main difference between Umami and Kokumi is that Umami is a basic taste for which there are receptors on the human tongue whereas Kokumi is said to be a feeling associated with food rather than taste, literally translating to “rich taste”. The term Kokumi was coined almost 80 years later than Umami.

Umami vs Kokumi

Umami is one of the five basic tastes a human can taste. It is found in dried and fermented food the most. It is caused to due to the taste buds responding to glutamate and nucleotides. The tongue has receptors specifically for Umami. Umami was scientifically discovered in Japan by Kikunae Ikeda.

Kokumi in Japanese literally translates to “rich taste”. It is the characteristic of matured food items or items that have been cooked for a long time. It is the background richness and complexity of food items whose flavor becomes more pronounces the longer they are cooked for and they become more than just the sum of their ingredients.

Comparison Table Between Umami and Kokumi

Parameters of ComparisonUmamiKokumi
MeaningUmami is the 5th taste characterized as a “savory and delicious” taste. Kokumi is the roundness, complexity, and richness that some foods possess.
DiscoveryUmami was discovered at the University of Tokyo in 1908.It was also discovered in Japan but much later in 1989.
FoodsFoods rich in Umami flavor include dried tomatoes, soy, broths, cooked meats, etc.It is present in stews, fish sauce, garlic, and soups that have simmered for a long time.
CategoryUmami is scientifically recognized as being distinct and the tongue has specific receptors for it.Kokumi is the long-lasting and rich effect produced by the already existing tastes.
BiologyUmami is created due to glutamate and nucleotides, such as monosodium glutamate.Kokumi is created due to peptides, amino acids, and glutathione.

What is Umami?

Umami is the fifth taste that a human tongue can distinctly recognize. It is described as a savory and delicious feeling and its name has also been derived from the Japanese word Umai which translates to tasty or delicious. It is caused due to nucleotides and glutamates that trigger umami receptors on the tongue.

Unlike other tastes that have receptors in specific regions of the tongue, Umami can be detected by most regions of the tongue and the mouth. This is because most food substances contain Umami components but they have to be prepared in a specific way to be really able to distinguish between the other tastes and Umami.

Ripe tomatoes, a wide variety of mushrooms, especially the shitake mushrooms, fishes, seashells, fermented foods such as soy sauce, fish sauce, shrimp paste, and cured meats. Seaweed is also very dominant in umami flavor and it is very frequently used in Japanese culture. Other cuisines which have dominant umami components are Korean, Italian, and Thai.

Umami is very frequently seen as a sodium replacement because the components that make up the umami flavor are safer than sodium which in high quantities is harmful and raise blood pressure. Meanwhile, umami is found in healthier options such as fish sauce, mushrooms, and fermented foods. Umami has a distinct mouth fullness, tongue-coating sensation and it causes salivation. It lasts more than the other four basic tastes.

What is Kokumi?

Kokumi is identified by some people as the sixth taste but scientists regard it as a flavor enhancer and not a taste in itself because it does not classify as a distinct taste. There are no receptors on the human tongue specifically for detecting the Kokumi flavor and instead, the calcium receptors are affected by Kokumi substances. The feeling of kokumi is described as a richer and deeper feeling to the other tastes and it enhances both retention and innate flavor of the basic tastes namely sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami.

The kokumi essence was first isolated as a peptide name glutathione from garlic. Later, experiments also proved the existence of peptides and amino acids similar to glutathione in yeast extract. These chemical substances react in a certain way to create a feeling of mouth fulness and fuller flavors in food. Kokumi is also very dominant in Japanese cuisine and is found in foods such as soy, fermented foods, long-boiling broths, and roasted meats.

Kokumi is being researched thoroughly and more and more substances that can produce kokumi are being found as the same dish produced with kokumi is much better than without kokumi as there is a continuity of flavor produced by kokumi that cannot be replicated. Artificial isolations of kokumi have also been produced to add to dishes and enhance their flavor.

Main Differences Between Umami and Kokumi

  1. Umami is a distinct taste whereas Kokumi is the feeling of enhancement of other tastes and their long-lasting flavor.
  2. The human tongue has receptors for specifically detecting umami whereas there are no such receptors for kokumi.
  3. Umami is caused by chemicals known as glutamates and nucleotides naturally present in food whereas Kokumi is caused by chemicals known as peptides.
  4. Umami was discovered much earlier than Kokumi because of its distinct flavor profile whereas kokumi was coined much later upon strenuous culinary research.
  5. The kokumi sensation works as an appetite enhancer as well because of its complexity and enhancement of other tastes whereas umami does not.


Japan has done splendid research in the culinary world, discovering both umami and kokumi. Professor Kikunae Ikeda isolated monosodium glutamate from twelve kilograms of konbu in 1908 as the primary substance that causes the umami flavor and monosodium glutamate, colloquially known as MSG, is still used as a salt replacement and added to many Asian dishes to enhance their flavor.

The strongest source of kokumi has been identified as a chemical substance called gamma-glutamyl valyl glycine. It is naturally present in fish, soy sauce, shrimp paste, cheese, and beer. Similar to MSG, artificial kokumi substances are also available in certain markets now.


  1. https://academic.oup.com/jn/article-abstract/130/4/921S/4686627
  2. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0034489
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