Thursday, February 17, 2011

Food: An Obvious Question...

I suppose any cuisine seen from the perspective of another culture must be a bit odd. There are any number of foods we eat as part of our own cultural heritage that others look upon with a mix of wonder, disbelief, and even disgust.

From Western eyes Japanese foods can raise many of these feelings. After all who else creates create-your-own-sushi-candy kits?

However beyond the surface cuisines can raise really simple questions. Using Japanese cuisine as an example here's one question: Why does a food additive we tend to despise for its believed side effects not seem to affect a country that's swimming in the additive? Or more specifically If MSG is so bad for you, why doesn't everyone in Asia have a headache?

It's an interesting question on several levels. Alex Renton's article for the Guardian back in 2005 covers quite a few of those angles. Including a fact many of us don't know. There is another basic taste other than the four we're usually familiar with. We learn about sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. But there's a fifth - savouriness or umami. And nothing provides umami like glutamate. In fact mother's milk has 10 times the glutamate than cow's milk. We like the taste of umami a lot. Most of it just don't know that it exists let alone how good it makes food taste.

So, unless you are allergic to monosodium glutamate, it may be time to rethink our dislike of it. Or at least we should rethink the power of glutamate in general. Foods that are high in glutamate may end up making your meals taste better than you ever thought possible.

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