Sometimes the words used when talking about umami are a little unfamiliar. Here’s a look at the meaning of the ones you’re most likely to encounter so you can be in the know.
Glutamate – Glutamate is the common name for glutamic acid, an amino acid found in nearly all protein-containing food. It is also naturally produced by the human body.
There’s a widely held skepticism about MSG that started with a letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) in 1968. In an opinion piece, a physician noted radiating pain in his arms, weakness and heart palpitations after eating at Chinese restaurants, and speculated that cooking wine, MSG or excessive salt might be to blame. Readers replied that they too experienced this “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome,” and MSG became suspect in the public eye. Its presence at the top of people’s minds has ebbed and flowed over the past 50 years, but it is in the public consciousness enough that quite a few food labels today often still tout a food’s MSG-free status. But is MSG bad for you?
Let’s take a look at what the science has to say.
World-class chefs use MSG (monosodium glutamate) in their cooking, and perhaps you’re toying with the idea of giving it a try at home. Why should you go for it? Quite simply, because seasoning many foods with MSG makes them taste better!
Glutamate is an amino acid that is found in virtually every food. It’s a big part of protein-rich foods like meat, eggs and cheese, but is also found in fruits and vegetables. And, it is what’s responsible for giving foods the umami (savory) flavor that makes them taste delicious.
Within food, glutamate is either attached to other amino acids in the form of a protein (bound) or by itself (free). The more free glutamate there is, the more umami flavor the food will have. There are a few variables that impact how much free glutamate is in a food
Our immune systems are generally pretty good at differentiating between dangerous invaders (bacteria, viruses, etc.) and harmless substances (pollen, peanuts, etc.), and reacting accordingly. The process sometimes fails, unfortunately, resulting in a food allergy. This happens in an estimated 4% of adults and 5% of children, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Symptoms of a food allergy can range from mild to severe, and include vomiting, stomach cramps, hives, wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, swelling of the tongue, and anaphylaxis, among others. About 90% of food-related allergic reactions are caused by 8 types of food: eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, and soy. There is no cure for food allergies or medication to prevent a reaction; avoiding the offending food trigger is the only option.
There’s an important distinction between a food “allergy” and food “sensitivity.” (Read on…)