Have you ever taken a bite of something that immediately made your mouth watery? Maybe it had a savory flavor to it? Maybe it tasted meaty and spicy though it wasn’t meat? Or it was just delicious?! What you had the pleasure of experiencing was Umami, a Japanese word meaning “the essence of deliciousness”.
Auguste Escoffier, a famous French chef in the late 1800s declared a savory taste as the secret to his culinary success. This secret was later discovered in 1908 by Kikunae Ikeda, a Japanese Professor of Chemistry at the Imperial University of Japan.
History has it that, this professor ate a homemade meal and the food was so delicious that he wondered why. Being a chemist, he wanted to know and hence he begun his research. Indeed, he was able to isolate glutamic acid from a bunch of seaweeds. This substance was the cause of the delicious food. He later named this taste Umami. You can read more about the history here.
WHICH FOODS GIVE THE UMAMI TASTE?
The umami taste can be subtle and sometimes hard to recognize. Some of the food in which the umami flavor is found include the following:
- Animal-based protein: cooked meat, such as chicken, beef, mutton
- Vegetables: Tomatoes, Onions, Cabbage, Asparagus, Mushrooms
- Premade and Packaged food: Canned soups, canned tuna
- Cheese: Parmesan, Cheddar, Roquefort
- Seafood: different kinds of fishes, shrimp, kelp, seaweeds
- Sauces and dressings: Soy sauce, ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, salad cream
- Processed meat: Pepperoni, bacon, sausages, salami
- Others: green tea, walnuts, chicken broth
GLUTAMIC ACID – SECRET OF THE UMAMI TASTE
Glutamic acid is a non-essential amino acid. This means that the body can produced it on its own. Amino acids are the small units that come together to form proteins. Glutamic acid is what gives the savory or delicious taste of some foods. People with the knowledge and skills have extracted glutamic acid from natural foods and improved it into monosodium glutamate, MSG. You can use it as a flavour enhancer in your meals. It is very likely you have tasted MSG in your favorite restaurant or roadside food, or even used it in your cooking.
Glutamic acid, as an amino acid, occurs naturally in some foods and in the body. For instance, when you cook meat or the tomato in your garden ripens, glutamic acid forms. Studies have shown that this amino acid plays important roles in our body’s nutrition, metabolism and sensing. Something to remember (when cooking) is that the concentration of glutamic acid in natural food would increase due to processes like fermentation, roasting, drying, ripening etc. And apart from MSG, there are other compounds that give the umami taste as well. An example is guanosine monophosphate.
IS MSG FOOD FOR ME?
Chemically, there is no difference between the glutamic acid found in natural foods and that found in MSG. In fact, the body is able to produce its own glutamic acid from the protein we eat. This compound has important health benefits such as supporting brain functioning, metabolism, transmission of information, boosting immune system, etc.
While MSG is famous among a number of chefs, it has also got its fair share of bad reputation from numerous individuals. What we should know is that food and other regulatory authorities certify MSG as safe when consumed in the right amounts. We can therefore use it in our dishes. Companies who produce MSG usually write the instructions of usage on the package. We entreat you to follow those instructions if you want to use MSG in your meals.
If however, you use IT in excess amount, it can lead to undesirable health conditions, just like any other food – sugar, normal salt, etc. Some studies have outlined chest pain, nausea and general weakness as some adverse health conditions resulting from excessive consumption of MSG.
Glutamic acid gives the umami taste. It cannot be described as sweet, salty, sour or bitter; it is on its own! The acid is found in some foods naturally. It has been isolated and improved into MSG.
In the right quantities, MSG can enhance the flavors of your meals and even help with your body’s functioning. When misused, it can lead to adverse health effects.
Remember, in all things, moderation is key!
Check out this interesting article on potatoes by us, and do not forget to share this umamilicious article with your friends and family. Everyone loves delicious food!