My journey into cooking with umami and my understanding of MSG started in a surprising way. I was teaching charcuterie at a top culinary school. My class started at 6 AM with a short lecture in that first early hour of class. It was the day when the lecture covered various food additives that find their way into meat systems. Along the way, I made the comment that we were not going to be cooking with MSG. It was a “fact” that I had heard and simply accepted as such. After class, a Filipino student asked me what was wrong with MSG. I said something like “Well, you know it is not good for you.” (How I wish that I had been a better teacher on that day as I was teaching from a lack of knowledge—never a good idea.) My student responded that she did not understand as her mother used MSG every day in their kitchen at home.
The current U.S. dietary recommendations emphasize the need for Americans to significantly reduce sodium in their diets. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 90 percent of all Americans eat too much sodium in their daily diets.
But for those of us who love salty foods and are used to grabbing the salt shaker the minute dinner is served, how do we lower our sodium intake without sacrificing taste? A recent research study on monosodium glutamate (MSG) and its effect on palatability is enlightening. The results are pretty tasty if we say so ourselves. While we’ve addressed MSG and taste in several of our blogs here at MSGdish, this research offers further proof of how important MSG can be to enhance the flavor of food (in this case, spicy soups).
Does umami, which means “delicious” in Japanese, affect appetite? Can the umami flavor provide or heighten satiety?
It is well-recognized that as the fifth sense of taste, umami amplifies the flavor of savory foods, increasing the enjoyment and pleasure in eating. It also enhances appetite — the feeling of wanting to eat food. Interestingly enough, research has shown that the umami flavor can also heighten satiety — the satisfaction of being full.
Umami, the proven fifth taste, has enjoyed a fascinating and stellar history since its discovery in 1908. One of the high points in umami’s 110-year timeline is the World Umami Forum, which took place just last week in New York City, September 20-21.
This inaugural conference attracted food science experts, renowned researchers, food historians, journalists, registered dietitians, and culinary professionals from around the world. Participants left the meeting with a deeper understanding and appreciation of umami and its essential role in cuisine, and learned about the extensive science that refutes urban myths about monosodium glutamate (aka MSG or “umami seasoning”).
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.