It appears some confusion exists about the relationship between umami and monosodium glutamate (MSG). Are they similar? Where did umami come from? Does MSG have umami flavor? Inquiring minds want to know.
If you are still a bit perplexed, we’d like to help. To do so, I’ve looked back at the blogs posted on MSGdish.com over the past few years. From there, I excerpted a few statements that are educational, even though they may be a bit repetitive, but repetition can be good. So here we go!
Over a hundred years ago, Professor Kikunae Ikeda of Tokyo Imperial University wondered what made kelp broth taste so good. He recognized that, “There is a taste which is common to asparagus, tomatoes, cheese and meat but which is not one of the four well-known tastes of sweet, sour, bitter and salty,” and set out to figure out what it was. He discovered that glutamate, an amino acid made by many plants and animals, was the source of this distinctive taste, and named the flavor “umami.”
Dan Pashman, author, public speaker, host and self-described “eater, not foodie,” started his year off right. In January, Pashman’s podcast, The Sporkful, released an episode titled “This Podcast Contains MSG.” The two-time James Beard nominated podcast began the episode by playing media clips from horrified people claiming to have fallen ill due to MSG exposure. Pashman takes over the narration and describes the story of Dr. Ho Man Kwok’s personal anecdotal speculation that led to the coining of the phrase Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.
Twenty-five years ago, a television channel dedicated solely to food came into our homes. Yes, I’m talking about the Food Network. At the time, the concept of watching culinary experts (24/7 no less) sharing their skills and knowledge — live and via video — was novel. Up until then, resources were limited to reading about the culinary world or practicing food preparation methods first-hand.
Now, however, we take for granted that we can learn about food and cooking by watching and listening to television/radio shows and online videos. Content ranges from food trends, culinary techniques and new ingredients to competitions between seasoned chefs (as well as contests between novices and professionals). All it takes to learn more about food is as simple as turning on our TVs or by tapping a button on our computers, tablets or smart phones.
Indeed, discussions about food have permeated our lives, whether we like it or not. “Food talk” is now inescapable in our society. For example, until we had these television shows, online videos and websites, who had heard much about umami taste, which has been taking the culinary world by storm for the past decade?
Cinephiles love this time of year; it’s awards season! It’s the period from December to early March when a majority of the entertainment industry gives recognition to one another and occasionally allows viewers to participate by voting. There’s something great about watching my favorite celebrities get dressed up in elaborate outfits, cry and laugh while accepting well-deserved awards and giving incredible speeches.
For those of us who are into film, fashion and food, the best part about awards season are the viewing parties. We discuss outfit choices, our favorite categories and nominees, cheer on winners and… eat!
Sometimes we taste a food or meal and think, “Hmm, this needs something. Right?! Seasoning properly is the downfall of most cooks; seasoning food properly makes all the difference in taste,” according to Jame P. DeWan, who teaches culinary arts at Kendall College in Chicago.
“Most people don’t know how to make food taste its very best. And a lot of it comes down to how the food is seasoned,” he explains.