Umami: kombu kelp or monosodium glutamate?
Umami, the fifth taste
Umami (うまみ) means “tasty” in Japanese, and indicates the fifth taste, along with salty, sweet, bitter and sour.
It was categorized by Kikunae Ikeda (池田 菊苗) after his studies on kombu kelp broth, finding the substance responsible for this taste: glutamic acid.
This amino acid is part of foods rich in proteins, like egg, fish and cheese, and is an excellent salt substitute to flavor dishes. In japanese cuisine, soy and kombu contains a lot of it, and they are the base for many recipes.
In the following, after showing you the qualities and some usage of kombu seaweed, we’ll explain our point of view about the monosodium glutamate.
Kombu ( 昆布 ) is a family of brown edible kelp with multiple beneficial properties:
- they are rich of fiber, and promote intestinal transit thanks to their alginic acid, a substance with colloidal properties that is difficult to break up in the stomach;
- the high iodine content promotes the synthesis of hormones that help to metabolize fats and carbohydrates;
- widely used to make the dashi stock (HERE our recipe), it helps to soften the fibers of other ingredients and enhance their flavor.
In the nutrition fact table (for 100 grams of kombu) are highlighted the nutritional components that causes the just mentioned qualities:
One of the best dishes to appreciate a premium dashi stock, is the miso soup, that contains loads of nutritional properties such that the japanese gives it to their 6 months old’s child. Moreover, they drink it daily with other main courses and, if you go on japanese restaurants, it will be likely happen that they will offer it to you, so enjoy it!
Replace kombu kelp with monosodium glutamate?
Preparing the dashi broth takes time, so the food industry usually replace it with a powdered preparation whose main ingredient is monosodium glutamate.
This food additive (E621) is obtained through controlled fermentation rather than by extraction from seaweeds.
The glutamate takes the place of the sodium salt present in the kombu, and is so widely used that the European Union has established certain directives that regulate its food’s usage.
Its harmfulness has not been proved yet, although the correlation between its use and the increase in allergies, intolerances and obesity is discussed.
Moreover, this additive, widely used in the production of packaged foods, lowers the quality of food, hiding natural flavors and deceiving the taste buds.
Our advice is to avoid additives and follow the original recipes, like the ones you can find on this blog, where the kombu seaweed is widely used: of course you’ll need some extra time with respect to using the additives, but your dishes will be way more tasty knowing what ingredients they have inside!