Cooks around the world have always known that certain foods have more distinct and pleasurable flavor characteristics than others; that is why these foods often are used as ingredients in recipes. It has been noted that glutamate is an important element in the natural ripening process that results in full flavor. Perhaps this is why foods naturally high in glutamate (such as tomatoes, cheese and mushrooms) are often used for their flavorful qualities.
Monosodium glutamate enhances the basic flavor of many foods. New studies also show that MSG elicits a unique taste that is known as "umami" in Japan, and often described by Americans as a savory, broth-like or meaty taste. "Umami" is the fifth basic taste, beyond salty, sweet, sour and bitter. As an integral part of cuisines around the world, this savory taste is common to the bouillons of Europe, the oyster sauce of China, the soy and fish sauces of southeast Asia, the pizza and lasagna of Italy, and the chowders and stews of America.