Umami (旨味 - chinese pronunciation is zhǐ wei) is one of the five generally recognized basic tastes sensed by specialized receptor cells present on the human tongue. Umami is a loanword from Japanese meaning roughly "tasty", although "brothy", "meaty", or "savory" have been proposed as alternative translations.
Umami as a separate taste was first identified in 1908 by Kikunae Ikeda of the Tokyo Imperial University while researching the strong flavor in seaweed broth. Ikeda isolated monosodium glutamate (MSG) as the chemical responsible and, with the help of the Ajinomoto company, began commercial distribution of MSG products.
The thing is that the broth of seaweed contains glutamate and the other that glutamate causes the taste sensation "umami".'
MSG is the salt version of glutamic acid. Glutamatic acid is one of a chain of 20 amino acids that make up a protein molecule. It is a non-essential amino acid, which means that the body produces what is needed and we don’t need to make it up in our diet. The brain uses glutamic acid as a neurotransmitter.
Glutamate is glutamic acid that has been broken down by fermentation, cooking or other methods. Monosodium glutamate is made by mixing glutamate with salt and water.
Glutamate also naturally occurs in cheese and yeast and of course many other things.
Could I be allergic to MSG?
From [the Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2005/jul/10/foodanddrink.features3]:
"in the New England Journal of Medicine, a Dr Ho Man Kwok wrote a chatty article, not specifically about MSG, whose knock-on effects were to panic the food industry. 'I have experienced a strange syndrome whenever I have eaten out in a Chinese restaurant, especially one that served northern Chinese food. The syndrome, which usually begins 15 to 20 minutes after I have eaten the first dish, lasts for about two hours, without hangover effect. The most prominent symptoms are numbness at the back of the neck, gradually radiating to both arms and the back, general weakness and palpitations...'"
I KNOW THAT ALL TOO WELL!
"Other scientists were testing MSG and finding no evidence of harm - in one 1970 study 11 humans ate up to 147 grams of the stuff every day for six weeks without any adverse reactions. At the University of Western Sydney the researchers concluded, tersely: 'Chinese Restaurant Syndrome is an anecdote applied to a variety of postprandial illnesses; rigorous and realistic scientific evidence linking the syndrome to MSG could not be found.
Science has still not found a convincing explanation for CRS (Chinese Restaurant Syndrome): indeed, some researchers suggest it may well be to do with the other things diners have imbibed there - peanuts, shellfish, large amounts of lager. Others say that fear of MSG is a form of mass psychosis - you suffer the symptoms you've been told to worry about."
- MSG stimulates the pancreas to produce insulin
- MSG has been shown in lab tests to downregulate hypothalamic appetite supression, which is a fancy word for it makes you feel hungry again
- MSG tastes so good you eat more of the food and it feels great when it may not actually have nutrients and then you overeat
Glutamates are everywhere
Some of the names MSG goes under
- monopotassium glutamate
- glutamic acid
- autolyzed yeast extract
- calcium caseinate
- sodium caseinate
- E621 (E620-625 are all glutamates)
- Ajinomoto, Ac'cent
- Gourmet Powder
The following may also contain MSG natural flavours or seasonings
- natural beef or chicken flavouring
- hydrolyzed milk or plant protein
- textured protein
- soy sauce
Free/Natural glutamate content of foods (mg per 100g)
- roquefort cheese 1280
- parmesan cheese 1200
- soy sauce 1090
- walnuts 658
- fresh tomato juice 260
- grape juice 258
- peas 200
- mushrooms 180
- broccoli 176
- tomatoes 140
- mushrooms 140
- oysters 137
- corn 130
- potatoes 102
- chicken 44
- mackerel 36
- beef 33
- eggs 23
- human milk 22