Tag Archives: umami

Is MSG Safe?

The short answer is yes — MSG is included in the FDA’s Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) list, and research in Europe, the US, and Asia shows that MSG used in prepared foods or as a condiment is safe for people of all ages.

A few weeks ago I went to a luncheon about umami — the fifth taste. If you’re not familiar with umami, it is the “meaty” or “savory” rich taste that results from monosodium glutamate (MSG) in foods. Glutamate is the most prevalent amino acid found in dietary proteins and is found in many foods, including Parmesan cheese, ripe tomatoes, Chinese cabbage, seaweed, sardines, braised beef, mushrooms, and soy sauce. MSG is the sodium salt of glutamate, and when it’s added to food in small quantities, it enhances the umami flavor.

Now, you’re probably thinking, “but MSG is bad for me, isn’t it?” I also thought that until I learned more about it and umami. It turns out that MSG contains about 70% less sodium per teaspoon than table salt (640 mg vs 2,300 mg respectively). That’s pretty amazing, especially since we know that Americans need to watch their sodium intake. Using MSG in the cooking process can actually help lower dietary sodium intake. And, the amount of MSG you take in daily is trivial – it’s only up to 1/2 gram per day (as a reference, 1 teaspoon=4 grams).

At the luncheon, chef Danny Boome (of Rescue Chef on the Food Network) served three umami-rich courses, including:

  • Grilled Orange Polenta topped with Crabmeat Salad and Herb Oil — the polenta and crab are both umami
  • Coq Au Vin — bacon, mushrooms, and chicken stock give this dish it’s umami taste
  • Green Tea Ginger Sorbet with Pumpkin Green Tea Cheesecake — green tea and cheese are both evoke the umami taste

umami green tea cheese umami

Since I don’t eat shellfish or pork, I didn’t get to fully experience this meal (I received vegetarian substitutions that had some umami elements), but what I did enjoy was delicious and definitely opened my eyes to new ways to enhance the umami taste in my cooking.

Do you experience umami in the food you eat?

Note: I was not paid or asked to write about umami or MSG. All opinions are my own.

The Fifth Taste

IMG_0691Over the weekend I went to a restaurant in westchester called ümami café, named after the fifth taste sensation. The fifth taste? Yup, that’s right. Turns out we have five taste sensations, not just the four you’re familiar with: sweet, sour, bitter, salty.

Umami is a fifth taste that was discovered by the Japanese over a century ago, but did not really come into the spotlight until the ’80s. What does umami mean? The word is derived from the Japanese adjective umai, which is defined as “delicious” or “tasty.” Other words to describe umami are savory and meaty.  The umami taste is due to the taste receptor for glutamates, salts of the amino acid (protein building blocks) glutamic acid that is commonly found in meat, cheese, and broth. The most common glutamate is MSG (monosodium glutamate), used to enhance the flavor of food.

I first learned about umami in graduate school, and I remember the primary example of umami was a portobello mushroom — it has a meaty, savory taste that is not represented in the other taste categories. It’s hard to identify the umami taste, but when you can’t identify the taste of your food as one of the four you’re familiar with, remember umami — that may be what you’re tasting.

For more information on umami, check out the Umami Information Center.

Have you tasted umami lately?