If you hope for a life without heart attacks, you may want to start cutting your salt intake. One way to do this is by reading food labels and choosing foods that are low in sodium (less than 140 mg of sodium per serving). Another way is to reduce sodium by cutting back on the amount of salt you use when cooking and at the dinner table. The downside to this, though, is the taste. Salt not only adds flavor itself but also enhances the other flavors in the food.
This is where MSG comes in. Replacing the salt with MSG can lower the amount of sodium in a food without affecting the flavor. In fact, swapping salt for MSG can lower the sodium content of the food by up to 40% with no impact on how good it tastes. But how can something that contains sodium, monosodium glutamate (MSG), actually be beneficial in a low sodium diet?
Humans are innately drawn to the rich savory flavor of umami. People are generally not, however, drawn to the bitter taste of vegetables. So, making vegetable dishes more savory and thus more appealing seems like a no-brainer. Parents have been inadvertently doing this for years every time they added cheese to their kids’ broccoli. Here are several other more sophisticated, tried and true methods to boost the umami in your vegetables and finally get compliments on your Brussel sprouts.
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.” He was able to isolate the glutamate from the seaweed, and began to sell the crystallized form as a seasoning called Ajinomoto (which means “the essence of taste” in Japanese).
It’s time to address some common MSG myths and misconceptions. Let’s get straight to it:
Myth: MSG is not natural.
Fact: MSG is a purified form of naturally occurring glutamate. Because glutamate doesn’t like to be alone, sodium is added to make it more stable. While this particular combination of sodium and glutamate may not be found in nature, sodium and glutamate are naturally everywhere.
Salty and savory are two distinctly different flavors, yet they so often occur together that they can be hard to define separately. Your taste buds can still recognize each distinct component of salty vs savory even if your brain blends them together into one delicious flavor. But how?