Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The MSG conundrum part 3

History of MSG

Different cultures have enhanced the flavor of their food in different ways throughout time using their own form of "MSG". The ancient Romans used a sauce called garum that was obtained from fermenting fish in saltwater, Asians have fish sauce, in the U.K. they have Marmite, in the USA we have Accent and of course there is Worchestershire and soy sauce. The one thing all these flavor enhancers have in common is that they are all forms of glutamate.

In Japan the way they naturally acquire their "MSG" is from soaking a piece of kombu (dried seaweed) in hot water. This is the basis of dashi, the soup stock the Japanese love, and it was that flavor that a professor from the Tokyo Imperial University named Kikunae Ikeda was enamored with and sought out to isolate it in the early 1900's.

Ikeda felt there was a taste that was missing from the four accepted primary tastes of sweet, salty, bitter and sour. A savory taste associated with that Japanese broth he loved so much, meat, eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms and cheese. He called that fifth taste "umami", which translated means, "savory". He discovered, that dashi possessed the same chemical properties as glutamic acid and glutamate causes the taste sensation called "umami."

From there Ikeda then went on to create and patent monosodium glutamate and marketed it as a table condiment called Ajinomoto which translated means "the essence of taste."

Umami is a taste that has been recognized in the East since its recognition a century ago but not so in the West. It wasn't until the past twenty years when umami has been accepted as the fifth basic taste here in the West and chefs as of late have been working on ways to optimize the "umami" effect in their food.

If you have ever wondered why a cheeseburger, pepperoni pizza or spaghetti bolognaise are some of the most popular dishes in many parts of the world, than it shouldn't be a surprise to know they are basically a glutamate fest.

Spaghetti bolognaise

Tomato=glutamate, beef=glutamate, cheese=glutamate

Pepperoni pizza

Tomato=glutamate, pepperoni=glutamate, cheese=glutamate


Beef=glutamate, cheese=glutamate, tomato (either sliced or as ketchup)=glutamate and if the burger bun has malted barley in it=more glutamate

It is no wonder why glutamate makes food taste good because it stimulates receptors telling your brain "yummy, this is good." Umami taste buds respond to glutamate in the same way sweet ones respond to sugar. That's why adding some parmesan cheese on pasta or soy sauce to an Asian dish it gives it a flavor boost.


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