Did you know “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” was invented in 1968? Not identified, not discovered, not researched, but yep, invented.
Before 1968, Americans loved monosodium glutamate. The “new” condiment was introduced to the U.S. just 30 years prior and was added to a variety of foods to enrich flavors. The American public embraced it with open arms until… Dr. Robert Ho Man Kwok wrote a speculative letter to the New England Journal of Medicine.
Ketchup is probably my favorite condiment. I use it in cooking (e.g., meatloaf, my famous baked beans, let’s not forget sloppy Joe’s), on sandwiches (a must-have on grilled hot dogs and hamburgers) and in a variety of other ways (I should confess I can’t eat French fries without lots of it, but you probably could’ve guessed that at this point!). When my love of ketchup first began, little did I know that it was likely in part because of my love of tomatoes, which provides an undeniable umami taste.
We here at MSGdish love recounting the story of Dr. Kikunae Ikeda’s original discovery of the little crystals that would one day became known as MSG (monosodium glutamate). While Ikeda certainly did not invent the umami taste– it has been in the foods of many cultures for centuries– he was the first to distill the crystallized form of umami so that it could be used in an even wider variety of foods! You see, before Dr. Ikeda, there was no simple way to sprinkle pure umami seasoning on food.
March is a time for new beginnings since winter is nearly over and spring flowers are starting to bud (at least they are in some parts of the U.S.). Perhaps it also is the time when you think about shedding those winter coats and turn to a healthier lifestyle as warmer weather approaches. Well, you’re not alone.
As the headline of this blog says, umami and nutrition go hand in hand and March is not the only month when umami and nutrition work in harmony. March is National Nutrition Month® – a “nutrition education and information campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.” The campaign focuses on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits.
So let’s talk nutrition, especially how umami can be beneficial for overall health and specifically how monosodium glutamate (MSG) can help reduce the sodium in your diet.
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?