The International Food Information Council Foundation (IFIC) has published a new fact sheet on monosodium glutamate and its relationship with the umami taste. The fact sheet is titled “Monosodium Glutamate (MSG): From A to Umami.”
As an adult, I love vegetables of all kinds. Cannot think of one I don’t like. Parsnips. Turnip greens. Lima beans. You name it. I didn’t always like them as a kid; in fact, I despised most of them. Somewhere over the years, my tastes in food changed into that of more discerning diner, for which I am grateful. I don’t attribute that to being an adult, because some adults I know still don’t care for vegetables. Perhaps being a student of nutrition, I learned to appreciate an entire new world of tastes as I studied the health benefits of veggies. However, once I discovered that many vegetable dishes were only somewhat appealing, it dawned on me they were lacking the umami taste I craved. Adding a dash of monosodium glutamate (MSG), aka umami seasoning, provided a distinct umami flavor that had been MIA. Thus, I became convinced that a plain vegetable dish could be made so much better with MSG and the fifth taste (umami) it provides.
“The focus on umami has reached a fever pitch, with chefs looking to ingredients from Asia, like furikake, togarishi, and fish sauce to amp up their dishes. At New York’s Megu, an umami sushi menu is designed to build the umami flavor through a nine-course tasting dinner, while Houston’s Kata Robata regularly hosts collaborative umami-focused dinners. Now, instead of simply building flavors through umami behind-the-scenes, chefs are marketing umami directly to customers.”
Every time I hear Chef Chris Koetke talk about umami, something unexpected comes up in the Q&A. (In Atlanta, it was about the high free glutamate content in breast milk, but that’s a different blog!) Last week, at the Florida Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (FAND) meeting, Chef K was asked whether adding a touch of monosodium glutamate, or MSG, would have the same effect as salt when added to beer.
Can one doctor’s letter to the editor spark a multi-decade paranoia and fear about an amino acid we’d already been eating for years? If you bet the farm that it could you’d be right (and rich).