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.: June 2006 --> Umami Information Center

Umami Information Center

» Did you know that green tea is an Umami-rich food? Now you do, thanks to the Umami Information Center. One of their recent articles describes the complexity of choosing, preserving, and cooking with konbu, although there is little in the way of concrete advice offered to the home cook.
 [ 06.29.06 ]


Caveat Lector!

The term "umami" was coined by the Chemist Dr. Kikunae Ikeda to describe the flavor of a chemical that he had recently isolated. The term didn't catch on, because the chemical that he had isolated -- monosodium glutamate -- is actually tasteless on its own. MSG is usually classified as a flavour enhancer.

The website you linked to is part of a PR campaign by The Umami Manufacturers Association of Japan -- presumably another name for Ajinomoto, the world's No.1 producer of monosodium glutamate. They have been promoting the idea of umami as the "fifth flavour" ever since consumers started getting uneasy about synthetic food additives, back in the '80s. I would suggest that you take what they say with a pinch of ... um ... condiment.

As for me, I'm 99% sure that MSG caused my migraines. I can only prove it by swallowing a teaspoon of the stuff and waiting to see what happens, but I'm too chicken to do that. Those migraines *hurt*!

If MSG is so bad for you, why doesn't everyone in Asia have a headache? Nice Observer article on MSG, recommended reading.

Different people have different reactions to MSG. It's never bothered me, but it gives my brother headaches.

I consider myself a practising sceptic who much prefers hard science over scare-stories and new-agism. Nonetheless, I am entirely convinced that there is some dietary trigger for my symptoms, and the particular foods and and symptoms involved are typical of MSG sensitivity.

Regarding the Observer article, I have read it before, and I might be inclined to sympathise with the writer's stance if I didn't know better. I accept that there could be many MSG hypochondriacs out there, but the central arguement just doesn't hold. I quote:

...why doesn't anyone ever complain of a headache or hyperactivity after a four cheese and tomato pizza (where there's easily as much glutamate as in an MSG-enhanced chicken chow mein)?

I can't directly answer that question, but the facts speak for themselves. There are plenty of people with proven MSG-sensitivity (i.e. they took the test that I chickened out of) whose symptoms are not triggered by foods such as pizza.

The article also ignores the confusion that arises from acquired tolerance. For instance, when I took steps to eliminate triggers from my diet, my sensitivity increased. Foods that used to cause only a mild, tolerable stomach-upset now cause 12 hours of headaches, nausea and debilitation.

Finally, MSG is not as widely used in Asia as Renton seems to think. The typical Western diet probably contains far more MSG than the Asian diet. For instance, I once knew an MSG-sensitive Asian who said that, although she can eat out safely in Hong Kong, Chinese restaurants in the UK are real danger-zones for her. Food for thought....



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