To those living a gluten-free lifestyle, it can often be upsetting to have to exclude so many delicious foods from the diet. But cheer up, because a major part of what literally makes food delicious and savory is totally gluten-free. We are talking about umami, the fifth taste sensation. The other four tastes (salty, sweet, bitter, and sour) have been identified and accepted for many years, but now umami is cementing its place as the fifth taste sensation. The amino acid glutamate, a building block of protein, as well as two chemical compounds abbreviated GMP and IMP, are responsible for the taste sensation of umami. The umami taste in foods is at once both powerful and subtle, and can be hard to define. It is generally thought of as what gives a food its savory, mouth-watering, tongue-coating, and satisfying qualities. To understand the flavor of umami, imagine eating a char-grilled steak topped with a mushroom demi glace. And if you started the meal with an appetizer of oysters on the half-shell, followed by a Caesar salad with parmesan cheese and anchovy (no croutons, please), your umami taste buds would be partying like rock stars.
Umami was first identified in 1908 by a Japanese scientist, Kikunae Ikeda, who used the word for “deliciousness” to describe its flavor. In 1985, the term “umami” became the scientific word to describe this taste sensation. In fact, like the term “ciao,” the word “umami” is the same in most languages. Many cultures and populations across the globe all have their own food staples that are rich in umami. Due in part to the discovery of taste receptors on the tongue that serve no purpose other than to recognize the presence of umami, it is now generally accepted to be the fifth flavor. It makes evolutionary sense that our ancestors developed taste buds to be able to enjoy foods rich in glutamate, GMP, and IMP because they are often healthy and nutritious.
Many foods are high in umami. Given that glutamate is an amino acid, it would make sense that many foods rich in protein are also rich in umami including fish, shellfish, beef, chicken, and pork. But there are also many vegetarian sources of umami. Parmesan cheese and chicken eggs are rich in umami. Even those following a vegan diet can get their fill of umami, as vegetables like tomatoes (yum, ketchup), mushrooms, seaweed, potatoes, truffles, soy beans, spinach, and Chinese cabbage are also all good sources of umami. Notice that none of the aforementioned foods contain gluten. Just because you’re living gluten-free doesn’t mean you have to live umami-free.
No discussion of umami would be complete without the mention of mono-sodium glutamate, or MSG. Developed by the Japanese scientist who first identified umami, MSG is simply the amino acid glutamate with an attached sodium molecule, and is a food additive that imparts the flavor of umami on anything to which it is added. Just as we might add a dash of sugar or a pinch of salt to elevate the flavor of a dish, it is common practice in Asia to do the same with MSG. Now, if you are like many Westerners, you probably have a very negative knee-jerk reaction to the mention of MSG. Many people feel as though MSG causes headaches, allergies, and other health problems. But most studies and experts in the field agree that MSG is harmless and can be consumed in normal quantities without any adverse health consequences. The United States FDA, as well as other international bodies, all recognize MSG as a safe food additive. It appears that the negative stereotype given to MSG is undeserved. In fact, in the wake of the health food movement in America, many companies are experimenting with MSG as a way to add flavor and savoriness to foods without adding ingredients generally considered to be unhealthy such as salt, sugar, and fat.
Article Courtesy: Andrew Steingrube
I disagree strongly about the safety of MSG after watching a family member have very negative reactions to it. It is not necessary to put it in our food, there are many other ways to flavor foods without adding MSG.
"I disagree strongly about the safety of MSG after watching a family member have very negative reactions to it"
You can disagree with whatever you like, but your family's reaction is not based on a sensitivity to "MSG" so much as the extremely sodium-rich foods you served them. It's best to speak to medical doctors rather than assume things based on urban legend.