Monosodium glutamate is an umami condiment made through a fermentation process that begins with plants such as corn and sugar cane. The key component of MSG, which gives umami the delicious flavor of umami, is glutamate, a natural amino acid found in tomatoes, cheese, mushrooms, breast milk and more. For a long time, umami was not recognized as a basic flavor. Instead, monosodium glutamate (MSG) and umami were thought to be the same thing.
It wasn't until the late 20th century that scientists agreed that umami was the fifth flavor and listed it along with salty, bitter, sweet and sour. They realized that, unlike umami, monosodium glutamate is not found naturally in foods. Rather, monosodium glutamate is an additive that makes umami stronger. This is similar to adding salt to foods to make them taste salty.
The reality is that monosodium glutamate and umami offer us the same taste experience. Although monosodium glutamate has a negative connotation and umami has a largely positive connotation, they actually use the same molecule, an amino acid called glutamate, to activate our taste receptors. Although difficult to pinpoint on its own, umami is an excellent flavor enhancer, making salty foods taste even saltier and sweets taste even sweeter. In 1909, he acquired a patent to manufacture the umami condiment with monosodium glutamate after the Japanese Ministry of the Interior discovered that it was harmless and production began under the Ajinomoto brand.
But as for the tasty flavor that keeps us coming back for more, monosodium glutamate and natural umami cause the same reaction in our brain. While no research has yet been conducted on the market value of food products high in umami, the flavor trend in the restaurant industry is encouraging. In response, your body produces more saliva and digestive juices to help you digest the proteins that umami warned you about. There is no chemical difference between glutamate in monosodium glutamate and glutamate found naturally in umami foods.
While calories certainly don't tell the whole story, for those struggling with calorie consumption, using umami for seasoning, instead of fat, could help with healthy weight management. In order to determine the exact flavor of that seaweed soup mentioned above, chemist Kikunae Ikeda discovered through a series of tests a crystalline compound that contained the same flavor as the tasty dish, a fifth flavor that he called umami. Natural umami is known to have a savory flavor that is commonly associated with things like soy sauce, meat, and seaweed. In some brands, monosodium glutamate is used as a flavor enhancer (remember that umami has a lasting flavoring power) and the public perception of these brands is that they use it to reduce the quality of the ingredients.
In Japan, umami is layered throughout a recipe, usually starting with dashi (how umami was discovered). You're going to see and hear much more of the conversation about MSG and umami this year and beyond. Glutamate is what you taste in umami foods, such as ripe tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, aged meats, onions, seaweed, broccoli, asparagus and mushrooms. By taking advantage of natural glutamates for its hamburgers, Umami Burger avoids the negative connotations associated with monosodium glutamate.