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.
Tokyo, Japan is the city with the most Michelin-starred restaurants in the world; in fact, the entire country of Japan has 429 restaurants with the honor. No other country comes close. It’s safe to say that Japan is one of the top culinary destinations in the world. Chefs and foodies alike have speculated about why Japan has been able to uphold this unique honor for nearly decade: some say it’s the small restaurants that allow for attention to detail, some say it’s the island’s ability to produce fresh and dynamic produce year-round, some say it’s the distinctive umami flavor present in so many dishes that is responsible for Japan’s food successes.
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?
It appears some confusion exists about the relationship between umami and monosodium glutamate (MSG). Are they similar? Where did umami come from? Does MSG have umami flavor? Inquiring minds want to know.
If you are still a bit perplexed, we’d like to help. To do so, I’ve looked back at the blogs posted on MSGdish.com over the past few years. From there, I excerpted a few statements that are educational, even though they may be a bit repetitive, but repetition can be good. So here we go!
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.”
Dan Pashman, author, public speaker, host and self-described “eater, not foodie,” started his year off right. In January, Pashman’s podcast, The Sporkful, released an episode titled “This Podcast Contains MSG.” The two-time James Beard nominated podcast began the episode by playing media clips from horrified people claiming to have fallen ill due to MSG exposure. Pashman takes over the narration and describes the story of Dr. Ho Man Kwok’s personal anecdotal speculation that led to the coining of the phrase Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.