fifth taste sensation

In today’s mailbag column about another taste sensation besides sweet, sour, etc., there is discussion of MSG. I just wanted to add that Cecil also wrote a column about MSG, and whether it is bad for you:

In a couple cooking books I have read a fifth taste sensation was defined as pungency, AKA spiciness. Does that mean we have six or are cookbooks just notoriously unscientific?

Not necessarily – “pungency” or “spiciness” could easily be a reference to the MSG taste; I believe the Japanese word translates as “tastiness”.

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams

I’m done a fair amount of research on the topic (I was actually the one who posed the question, but unfortunately the answer didn’t give me any info I didn’t already have – oh well) and the conclusion I’ve come to is that the definition of “basic” tastes varies from country to country. For example, the Japanese are the ones who’ve always claimed umami as a basic taste, but the Chinese seem to regard spiciness (or heat) as the fifth basic taste. Westerneres tend to stick to the basic four we’ve always known.

Taste researchers don’t consider hotness a taste at all, as far as I can tell – they refer to it in terms of sensation. As far as umami goes, I’ve heard it described as “savory” or “brothlike,” which make sense to me, but when they start talking about the “flavor” of MSG, I just don’t get it. I even bought some Accent to see what it tasted like, and it just tastes a little salty to me.