MSG: More than just a food additive
If you find yourself wondering what the source of the delicious savory taste in your takeout food is, look no further than "umami," or the fifth taste. Often achieved by the addition of monosodium glutamate, controversy has surrounded this food additive for decades.
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is the sodium salt of glutamic acid, a nonessential amino acid. High levels of MSG are naturally found in a range of food sources, including seaweed, soy sauce, parmesan cheese, tomatoes, and breast milk.
The uniquely savory flavor associated with these foods is called "umami," which is now widely accepted as the fifth taste.
Interestingly, glutamic acid itself does not have umami flavoring, but MSG in food activates glutamate receptors in the taste buds. These transmit signals to distinct regions of the brain, causing the characteristic taste.
But does MSG have a role beyond creating taste sensations? And why is there ongoing controversy over using MSG as a food additive?