MSG or Monosodium glutamate is a flavour-enhancing seasoning that is widely used in Chinese cuisine and also added to other restaurant foods, canned vegetables and soups. Just like sugar adds sweetness to a dish and salt adds saltiness, MSG contributes to adding the fifth flavour — umami — to a dish. For the unversed, umami is a category of taste in food, besides sweet, sour, salt, and bitter. Scientists identified umami taste receptors on the human tongue in 2002. It can be most closely associated with savoriness. In Japanese, umami means “essence of deliciousness”.
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A Quest For Flavour: Invention Of MSG
It all started with a bowl of Kombu dashi in 1908. While savouring this dish, Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda became convinced that there exists a flavour beyond sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. He began analyzing the composition of Kombu dashi and discovered that the distinct savoury flavour came from the presence of glutamic acid, a type of amino acid. He named the taste umami, an inherent taste just like sweet, salty, bitter and sour. Glutamate is naturally present in various foods like seaweed, cheese, fermented beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, cured hams, scallops, tuna, green peas, and beef. After discovering this flavour, Dr. Ikeda developed a seasoning with glutamate as its key component to instantly increase the umami of any dish. He named this umami seasoning Ajinomoto.
How Is Ajinomoto Or MSG Seasoning Made?
At first, the Ajinomoto company produced MSG through the hydrolysis of gluten to extract wheat protein, according to their website. Then in the 1930s, there was a shift to extracting MSG from soy beans. In the 1960s production moved to the bacterial fermentation of sugar cane and similar crops in a process much like the way cheese, yogurt and wine are produced.
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Is MSG Harmful?
In the 1960s, MSG came under the radar when Chinese-American doctor Robert Ho Man Kwok wrote a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine explaining that he got sick after consuming Chinese food, reported Healthline. In the letter, he wrote that his symptoms could have resulted from consuming either alcohol, sodium, or MSG. While there was no concrete proof against MSG, the letter sparked a host of misinformation about MSG. Today, health authorities like the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the European Food Safety Association (EFSA) consider MSG to be generally recognized as safe (GRAS).
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