This map shows how umami, the "fifth" taste, is enjoyed across the world. In 1908 chemistry professor Kikunae Ikeda (Imperial University of Tokyo) isolated the main ingredient, a type of seaweed, in dashi (a Japanese soup stock), and was able to identify the additional quality—beyond sweet, bitter, salty, and sour—that the human tongue is capable of tasting. Frank Jacobs describes the taste of umami:
It has been described as meaty and savory, but it's a complex and subtle taste, even in high concentrations. In fact, umami is more of a helper flavor, enhancing the saltiness or sweetness of other foods, which explains why it has remained under the radar for so long. Umami comes from molecules found in meat (inosinate), plants (guanylate), or both (free glutamate). Some processes like aging and fermenting create free glutamate, bringing out the umami flavor. (Think: cured meats or cheeses.) But umami is also strongly present in mushrooms, seafood, and tomatoes. The latter points to why ketchup is such a popular condiment: its umami-ness acts as a flavor enhancer.
The taste has existed long before it was isolated, identified, and named in 1908:
Umami has a global presence and a long history. Take for instance garum, a fermented fish sauce that was ragingly popular throughout the Roman Empire. One of the most intriguing "known unknowns" from antiquity is the exact composition of this Roman condiment, a distant ancestor to both Worcestershire sauce and ketchup.
Other more contemporary umami-rich foodstuffs across Europe include selyodka (or Russian salted herring), Poland's kielbasa sausage, and yeast extracts like Marmite, which has been dividing opinion in the UK since 1902.
Go explore the map to see what foods around the world contain the umami flavor. Now I feel like eating some vegemite on toast! Yum!