Taste is a result of a substance reacting with the taste receptors on the tongue. Umami (also known as savory) is one of the five tastes, the others being sweetness, sourness, saltiness and bitterness. The word umami is a Japanese word and the taste is said to be meaty, soupy and pleasant. Some umami foods are cheese, mushrooms, soy sauce, cured meats and certain vegetables like tomatoes. Umami is sometimes called the fifth taste, as it is a newer taste to Westerners, in addition to the original four tastes.

Genetic variation

There is a variation in umami tasting sensitivity among different individuals. The umami taste is elicited by glutamate (an amino acid) in foods. Glutamate interacts with the taste receptors and a sensation of umami is the result. There are several taste receptor genes, each gene produces a part of the taste receptor. The umami receptor is made up of two parts. It has been found that a variant (rs307377) in one gene, TAS1R3, that produces one part of the umami receptor, may double umami tasting sensitivity. This variant is the relatively rarer T allele.

T : T
Higher sense of umami

T : C
Higher sense of Umami

C : C
Normal sense of Umami

The T allele

This T allele is present in 0 – 9 % of people, depending on the population. In European populations (and those of significant European heritage) it is present in about 3 % of people. In East Asian populations however, it is present in about 9 % of people. This is interesting, considering that East Asia is where umami originates from both linguistically and culturally. Perhaps people in places like Japan can taste umami better and this genetic trait has had an influence on their cuisine.

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Even though the aforementioned gene likely contributes to variations in umami taste perception, it is not yet absolutely certain. The reason is that there have not been that many studies on it. Some of these studies involved only a small group of people that were all genetically very similar. Furthermore, the aforementioned variant is not the only factor affecting umami tasting sensitivity, other factors and their combined effects must be further researched. Overall it can be said it is quite likely that if a person has at least one T allele, they can sense umami taste better.
Disclaimer

The information provided in this article is based on published SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) data and is for educational purposes only. Most published studies about genetic variants in the DNA explain only a small part of the heritability of a trait or disease risk, and often do not take into account how different variants may interact with each other. In addition, many published studies do not account for medical history or environmental, dietary, microbial, or lifestyle factors, which may alter true risk for any trait or disease.

The relevance of each article may vary based on ethnicity. Nothing in the genetic article should be used for medical self-diagnosis or self-treatment. The information provided should not be considered complete, nor should it be relied on to suggest diagnosis or treatment of a particular individual. You should always get the advice of your doctor or other appropriate health care professional if you have any questions about diagnosis, treatment, prevention, mitigation, or cure of any medical condition, phenotype, condition, impairment, or the status of your health.

Glossary

ALLELE

An allele is a variant form of a gene that is located at a specific position, or genetic locus, on a specific chromosome. Humans have two alleles at each genetic locus, with one allele inherited from each parent.

CHROMOSOME

A chromosome is a thread-like structure of DNA that carries hereditary information, or genes. Human cells have 22 chromosome pairs plus two sex chromosomes, giving a total of 46 per cell.

DISEASE PREVALENCE

The proportion of individuals in a population having a disease or characteristic. Prevalence is a statistical concept referring to the number of cases of a disease that are present in a particular population at a given time, whereas incidence refers to the number of new cases that develop in a given period of time.

DNA

DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the main component of chromosomes and the carrier of genetic information in nearly all living organisms. DNA is made up of molecules called nucleotides. Each nucleotide contains a phosphate group, a sugar group and a nitrogen base. The four types of nitrogen bases are adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G) and cytosine (C).

GENE

A hereditary unit consisting of a sequence of DNA that occupies a specific location on a chromosome. Genes are transferred from a parent to offspring, and are responsible for the physical and heritable characteristics or phenotype of an individual.

GENETIC VARIANT

An alteration in the most common DNA nucleotide sequence. The variant can be benign, pathogenic or of unknown significance. SNPs are the most common type of genetic variation.

GENOTYPE

The genetic makeup of an individual organism. It may also refer to just a particular gene or set of genes carried by an individual. The genotype determines the phenotype, or observable traits of the organism.

ODDS RATIO

The odds ratio is a way of comparing whether the odds of a certain outcome is the same for two different groups. In this report, the odds ratio estimates the probability of a condition occurring in a group of people with a certain genetic variant compared to a group of people without that variant.

 

An odds ratio of 1 means that the two groups are equally likely to develop the condition. An odds ratio higher than 1 means that the people with the genetic variant are more likely to develop the condition, while an odds ratio of less than 1 means that the the people with the variant are less likely to develop the condition.

PHENOTYPE

A description of an individual’s physical characteristics, including appearance, development and behaviour. The phenotype is determined by the individual’s genotype as well as environmental factors.

POPULATION ALLELE FREQUENCY

The allele frequency represents the incidence of a gene variant in a population. Alleles are variant forms of a gene that are located at the same position, or genetic locus, on a chromosome.

SNP

Single nucleotide polymorphisms, frequently called SNPs, are the most common type of genetic variation among people. A SNP is a variation in a single nucleotide that occurs at a specific position in the genome.

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January 29, 2019

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