Linking the Science of Senses to the Deeper Needs of Our Soul: “Umami: How a Fifth Taste Reminds Us of Our Deepest Desire.”

Leonardo DaVinci once said, “The five senses are the ministers of the soul.” Every moment of every day we use these to help us navigate and experience the world around us. As scientists study the human body, we have gained a greater understanding of how each sense is used to help us gain information. Ongoing investigations continue to demonstrate how each one positively impacts our health and wellbeing. As a Christian, when I read or hear about some of these scientific studies I am often struck by the way God uses our senses to understand who He is and how He created us. This week we will take a brief look at a few of these and relate them to a familiar passage of Scripture to see how they can illuminate and refresh our perspectives.


“Umami: How a Fifth Taste Reminds Us of Our Deepest Desire.”

So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

I Peter 2:1-3

honeyIt was long believed that we had four primary tastes that our tongues could detect: salty, sweet, bitter and sour. The best recipes from the best cooks were able to magically blend these four tastes into dishes which would make them more appealing to our taste buds. All of that has changed, however, since the discovery of a fifth taste called umami.  It was first identified by Kikunae Ikeda in Tokyo in the early 1900’s. He was struck by the distinctive flavor of seaweed broth. After working to isolate the actual molecule responsible for its flavor, he discovered it to be glutamate, which he called umami – a Japanese word for “delicious” or “savory.” It wasn’t until 1996 that University of Miami researchers officially labeled umami as our fifth taste. Since the research team published its findings in 2000, umami has seized the interest of other scientists, health professionals, food manufacturers and chefs around the world.

Even though it is typically found in many Asian foods, more recently chefs have begun adding this secret fifth taste to all kinds of dishes. Some report that it balances the flavors better while others say that umami, which can be found in a bottle of soy sauce, has the ability to boost them so that your palate fully experiences the pleasures of each ingredient. Many say it is an exotic flavor and find its qualities intriguing. One chef even developed a special umami-rich puree called “Taste No 5” which is available in a tube so that the average cook can begin experimenting at home.

Sweet, salty, bitter and sour and now umami. The buzz surrounding this fifth taste certainly indicates our curiosity over the possibility that something can be even better than what we have already sampled on our own tongues. We love foods and drinks that bring pleasure to our palate. When we taste something unusually yummy, the delight often spills out of our mouths in the form of groans or exclamations. We compare it to other fares and passionately describe the properties that set it apart.

You who have tasted of God know that there is no comparison. In a world full of people, possessions, pursuits and pleasures that compete for lordship in our lives, we have tasted what is very good. Nothing else will ever provide the deep satisfaction that comes from knowing God. Today, as you eat and drink and feel contentment, savor the only One who is good and whose words will forever taste “sweeter than honey” (Ps. 119:103).


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