Joined: 19 Aug 2005 Posts: 143 Location: Vancouver
Posted: Fri Jul 21, 2006 9:35 pm Post subject:
I could probably give you an hour lecture on this, but I'll keep it short. Umami is often referred to as savory. I tend to think of it as related to meaty and fatty flavors. It is a protein based flavor. Glutamate is simply free glutamic acid, one of the most common amino acids in proteins. Just about any food containing protein is going to have free glutamates, especially if the protein is altered (cooking, fermenting, hydrolyzing etc.).
I don't personally have any issues with MSG. It really isn't a cheat or artificial in my mind. It's simply a purified form of the free glutamates produced by fermentation. I do understand that some people are sensitive, but if you're not it really isn't a terrible thing.
Pungent isn't a taste so much as a sensation. Tastes are only those things detected by the taste buds in the tongue. Pungency is more of a whole mouth sensation. It's the volatile, tingly impact of horseradish and mustard, but not the heat.
It's very hard to describe individual tastes, odors and sensations that make up the full flavor impact of food. In order to have a common vocabulary, professionals who are involved in taste panels get training. You are given different simple foods, often down to purified chemicals responsible for specific flavors, and you're told the name that you should use when you encounter that flavor, taste, sensation again. It's really very cool. _________________ Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon. - The Dalai Lama
After I started reading about this, I printed off a copy of the article and took it into my husband's work (A five star restaurant here in Sydney) and collared the head chef for a chat. He has no fear of MSG, which I found interesting - his opinion was almost exactly that of foodscigeek's. With everything else..produce, quality etc etc, he's a total purist so I found his comments somewhat reassuring.
With regards to intolerance to MSG - there seems to be a bit of a debate about this. I have a friend who SWEARS she is intolerant - apparently one bite of a Chinese dish that she thinks contains it sets her off, but the contents of her cupboards don't really back this up - her favourite stocks and gravy granules both contain it. I'm sure some people truely are intolerant, but some people are severely allergic to nuts and we don't write them off as a food source because of it. As with anthing - salt seems a decent analogy here, perhaps - a little can be good, but too much is bad.
Vegemite and Marmite are reall high in umami, which explains that almost 'meaty' taste they have despite being pure yeast extract.
I just examined the back of my favourite potato chips, which are a 'Roasted potato' flavour (rather than just salted). They taste rather like potatoes that have been cooked round the meat. And yes, it's MSG (listed as 621 (E621, in some countries) that causes that.
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