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…)
The first time I saw my grandmother salt her grapefruit I thought she was crazy. Then she had me try it. I was amazed that it didn’t taste salty! Instead, the salt brought out the sweetness in this fruit that, as a kid, I found otherwise too bitter.
That’s the interesting thing about our bodies. They’re way more complex than the map of the tongue with five taste zones on it that you may have seen in middle school. That map is incorrect, by the way, as there are not specific zones on your tongue that correspond to various tastes. Rather, all of the tastes can be detected all over the tongue.
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.