Sunday, 7 September 2008

Parmesan and Monsodium Glutamate

The other day I had a nice pasta dish, topped as I often do with parmesan cheese. This reminded me about monosodium glutamate (MSG). Parmesan is one of the best naturally occurring sources of glutamate which combines with sodium to make MSG. Other natural sources of glutamate include tomatoes and asparagus.

Perhaps that explains why Italian food is so tasty, as MSG is a flavour enhancer and is described by some as the essence of tastiness. If you ever try some MSG on its own, which can often be bought in Chinese supermarkets qute cheaply, you will understand why. It is the fifth taste, after sweet, sour, salty and bitter and salty.

It was discovered by a Japanese professor who was fed some excellent noodle soup by his wife. He asked what was in it, and she showed him the seaweed. This was the moment that MSG was discovered, and I like the way he calls it the fifth taste 'umami' - a common Japanese word that is usually translated as 'savoury' - or, with more magic, as 'deliciousness'.

You can read more about this at this page which is quite an interesting read, and explains the history of MSG, the rise of Chinese Restaurant Syndrome, and other interesting bits and pieces. It is well worth a read. I don't think I will be heading out to buy some "Gourmet Powder" myself, but now at least I know why some foods are particularly unexplicably tasty!!

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