Nucleotides

Proteins and nucleic acids function as the key components to maintain life for plants and animals in terms of genetic heritage, self-duplication of genetic information, and regulation of metabolites for growth. It is, moreover, interesting that the components of these proteins and nucleic acids— such as L-glutamate in amino acids and 5'-ribonucleotides in nucleic acids—play a key role in making meals, which are indispensable for human life, very tasteful and joyful.

In the long history of humankind, umami was only first added to the restricted idea of four "basic" or primary tastes by Ikeda (1). He extracted monosodium L-glutamic acid from seaweed and identified the taste-active ingredient obtained as umami.

Not only must we consider the unique taste of L-glutamate, but also the remarkable effect of certain 5'-ribonucleotides in causing a synergistic taste effects in combination with L-glutamate. The culinary practices of Japanese cuisine have long taken advantage of the taste effects of certain combinations of natural products used as condiments, especially the seaweed sea tangle (Laminaria), in combination with either black mushroom (shiitake) or dried bonito (katsuo-bushi). The taste-active ingredients of black mushroom and bonito were identified as inosine 5'-monophosphate by Kodama (2) and guanosine 5'-monophosphate by Kuninaka (3), respectively. Kuni-naka (4) discovered that monosodium glutamate (MSG) and certain 5'-ribonucleotides added together to foods have a synergistic effect in enhancing food flavor.

Nucleotides are now used not only as umami flavor enhances but also as the raw material of pharmaceuticals. Industrial production of nucleotides started in Japan in 1961, using the RNA degradation method. Nowadays, nucleotides are mostly produced by a fermentation method using microorganisms, which was developed mostly in Japan. The main purposes are to produce two umami flavor enhancers inosine 5'-monophosphate (5'-IMP) and guanosine 5'-monophosphate (5'-GMP).

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