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Glutamate as Taste Enhancer

Glutamate as Taste Enhancer


Glutamate is more popularly known as monosodium glutamate or MSG. MSG is widely known as a food enhancer discovered in the 1900s by Professor Kidunae Ikeda of Tokyo Imperial University. The professor tried to discover the savory taste of soup made with soaked dried seaweeds which his wife always prepared for him. He found it in the natural chemical which he later called “umami”, a Japanese term for good taste. To stabilize the chemical, he just simply mixed it with ordinary kitchen salt and water, thus creating MSG. His discovery led to the commercial production of MSG by a well known manufacturing company.


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Now, MSG is being produced not with dried seaweeds alone but also from fermenting process using starch, sugar cane, sugar beets or molasses and has become a food flavor enhancer. MSG is tasteless when consumed on its own, but when combined with certain foods, it stimulates glutamate receptors in tongue that enhances salty and beefy flavors in foods.


Glutamate has long been used in cooking particularly in East and Southeast Asian foods. Soy sauce and fish sauce is a favorite food enhancer in these regions. While in Italian foods, parmesan cheese, anchovies and ripe tomatoes are common ingredients used in cooking.


However, the use of MSG is still being debated for many years now. Many have reported incidence of asthma attacks, difficulty in breathing, heart palpitations, allergies, depression, disorientation, eye damage, fatigue, headaches and obesity. There is now the so-called “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” where some diners experience headaches, worsening asthma and shortness of breath after consuming MSG laden foods.


In recent years, a team of international experts review MSG. They concluded that it is “harmless” but people with compromised blood-brain barrier where high glutamate levels is prevented from reaching the brain cause these people to react differently with MSG. Also, studies show that persons sensitive to MSG may have Vitamin B6 deficiency. Raw bananas, chicken breast, oatmeal, lean pork loin and fortified ready-to-eat cereals are a rich source of Vitamin B6. Taking some of these may reduce sensitivity to MSG.

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