Most people can instantly conjure images of sweet, sour, salty or bitter foods. If I asked you to picture something sweet, you might think of a piece of cake or a perfectly ripe strawberry. Similarly, a request to define sour may make you envision YouTube clips of adorable babies trying lemons for the first time. But what if I asked you to describe a “savory taste”? Tougher, isn’t it?
What do you make for Thanksgiving dinner when half of the people who will be at the table are watching their blood pressure? Ideally, you’d lighten up on the salt to reduce the sodium, but why go to all of the trouble to cook a feast if it’s going to taste bland? Salt may add flavor and enhance other flavors, but it’s not the only solution. There is a way to make food taste salty while using less salt.
Not only does MSG give dishes a savory, umami taste, but it is considered to be the purest form of umami. Why is that? And what does it even mean?
First, let’s explore what umami is.
It’s no secret that I love pizza. Seriously. Love it. It’s often my Friday night go-to dinner because it’s quick, easy, and a way to use up all of the leftover vegetables from earlier in the week. But, occasionally, I’ll make pizza during the week as a destination dish rather than an end of the week afterthought. It recently dawned on me that many of the ingredients commonly used in pizza are naturally high in glutamate, the amino acid responsible for umami flavor, so I set out to capitalize on that and create the ultimate umami bomb pizza. Here’s what I created.
“Natural.” There’s no official definition for the word as it relates to food, which makes the interpretation of it subjective. It seems most people seeking natural foods are doing so to keep close to nature and avoid products they view as synthetic. Monosodium glutamate, aka MSG, sounds far from nature, but is it? To answer that, let’s look at what it’s made of, where it comes from, and what happens to it in your body.