When I wrote the post on monosodium glutamate yesterday, I neglected to really explain what glutamates are.
Simply put, they are amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. There are specific glutamate receptors on our tongue, which allow us to experience the taste which in Japan is called “umami.” This fifth taste is one of savory, meatiness, and is naturally occurring in glutamate rich foods such as seaweed, fermented soybean products, fermented vegetables, meat, shellfish and certain types of vinegar.
Nika, at Nika’s Culinaria, wrote an excellent well-researched post explaining the chemistry of MSG and the health implications for humans ingesting large quantities of it. In light of her findings, I am less sanguine about trying out a pinch or two of MSG in my own cooking, even if that means I never quite manage to replicate that dish of stir fried bean sprouts and shrimp that lives in a golden haze in my memory. I think I will stick with the natural sources of glutamates as I have always done.
Last year, I wrote a series of posts about umami that explained the chemistry, the uses and where to find natural ingredients that include a healthy dose of glutamates which readers new to the concept may find useful and interesting.
Here are the links:
For the introductory overview: Do You Know Umami?
All about soybean sources of glutamates: Got Umami? Soybean Ingredients of the East
Information on glutamate ingredients from the sea: Umami From the Oceans of Asia
Glutamates in vegetables: All the Greens that Grow–Umami in Vegetables
Glutamates in meats: Umami–The Meat of the Matter
Fermented and fungus-based glutamates: Umami–The Power of Fermentation and Fungus
Western glutamate ingredients: Umami in the West
What you will find in reading through these archived posts is that there are lots of natural sources for glutamate in food, and a clever cook can employ these ingredients to give their dishes a little extra “oomph” without resorting to MSG.
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