If you haven’t heard of umami, then you’re probably unaware that humans actually have five different types of taste receptors. Umami is the fifth, and was only discovered in the early 1900s. On the tongue, there are receptors for sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami tastes. Each receptor type only interacts with certain kinds of molecules in the food that we eat, which is why every food has a different taste.
The umami receptors are triggered by L-Glutamate, which is a natural molecule that is found in many foods, such as mushrooms and cheese. Glutamate is one of the many “building block” components of proteins, and it is very common in the human body. Umami is a unique type of taste that is mostly noticeable when combined with other flavors, especially savory. It is a very positive taste that is hard to describe with words, but it makes food taste very good, and it also makes you feel satisfied and full.
If you know what umami is, then you may know that the common food additive and preservative MSG triggers the umami receptor. The receptor is naturally meant to react with L-Glutamate, but it also reacts with MSG, which is an artificially produced molecule. MSG is Monosodium Glutamate, which is not the same as natural L-Glutamate; it actually has negative side effects, especially if you consume a large amount. The two are similar and both contain glutamate, which is the part that triggers the umami taste. MSG is cheap to make, tastes great, and allows pre-packaged foods to have a longer shelf life, and so manufacturers have a lot of incentive to include it in foods. However, one should focus on naturally occurring L-Glutamate when seeking umami foods, as MSG is not beneficial to the body like natural umami can be.
Umami And Weight Loss
Eating natural umami foods can even help with weight loss. The main reason behind this is that L-Glutamate consumption leads to the feeling of fullness. There are receptors in the digestive tract that sense the presence of glutamate, and then send a chemical response to the brain that tells you to stop eating because you’re full. Umami also tastes fantastic, which means that you don’t have to go on a bland food diet to lose weight. In addition, many of the foods that contain L-Glutamate/umami are natural, and so are healthy for the body overall. Examples include truffles, mushrooms, Miso, seaweed, green tea, tomatoes, carrots, spinach, potatoes, cabbage, celery, chicken, and seafood. We’ll go into a bit more detail with the first five of these foods later on.
How Umami Was Discovered
There were people who utilized umami and recognized that there was something unique about certain foods before umami was actually discovered, such as French chef Auguste Escoffier. But the person who actually figured it out was Kikunai Ikeda, a Japanese chemist. Starting with a bowl of dashi soup, he was able to use chemistry to isolate the molecule L-Glutamate. He linked the extremely unique taste that he was experiencing with the presence of L-Glutamate, and thus umami was born. In the dashi soup, the umami taste came from the seaweed, but Ikeda tasted the umami in a variety of foods like cheese, meat, and other vegetables. Umami is very common in Japanese cooking.
Why MSG Is Unhealthy
We’ve covered how umami is different from MSG, so now let’s briefly go over why it’s important to consume natural L-Glutamate rather than artificial MSG. Here are some of the side effects of MSG consumption:
- Heart palpitations
- Chest pain
MSG has been linked to obesity and diabetes, among other things. MSG is addictive, so it is very easy for people to consume far too much. MSG leads to overeating, whereas natural umami is satiating. In addition, MSG triggers the production of insulin in the body, which means that the body will take in more sugar from the food that you’re eating. In other words, eating MSG leads to blood sugar spikes, and over time this can cause diabetes. Most things in small amounts are okay, but MSG is frequently overeaten, which is why so many side effects are associated with it.
Five Natural Umami Examples
- Truffles are a fungus that is considered a delicacy food item. It contains lots of umami, and it also contains both of the major molecules that enhance umami: guanylate and inosinate. These two naturally occurring molecules work with umami to produce a unique, powerful taste. Because truffles are not commonly found, they tend to be quite expensive. However, they are a great addition to quite a few dishes, especially pasta. Truffles are frequently used in Italy to compliment the flavors in pasta dishes and to provide a strong umami taste.
- Mushrooms are a more easily found source of umami. It works whether they or raw or cooked, though dried mushrooms actually have an enhanced umami flavor because of the higher levels of guanylate. Shiitake mushrooms are so popular in Japanese food because of this; for example, they are used in dashi, which is the dish that led to the initial discovery of umami. It seems that Shiitake mushrooms have a particularly prominent umami taste over other kinds. Mushrooms can be used in just about anything, such as salads, casseroles, pasta dishes, and soups.
- Miso is a source of umami that can be used for quite a few dishes, but is most commonly used for soup. Soybeans, which are what miso paste is made of, contain umami as well. Miso soup often contains kelp, which is another umami-rich food. Combining umami with salty and savory flavors is one of the most effective flavor boosters. Doing do will help ensure that the meal is tasty and satisfying.
- Seaweed is one of the major umami foods used in Japanese cooking. Dried seaweed is perfect for adding to foods to create the umami taste. Combinations of healthy umami foods can be fantastic tasting, healthy, and super filling. Soup is one of the easier meals that you can try if you’d like to take advantage of natural umami, but aren’t experienced in cooking. How about a miso soup with truffles, mushrooms, and seaweed in it? Other umami foods you could add are tomato, soy sauce, and Parmesan cheese.
- Green tea is one of the best beverages with the umami taste, and it is also one of the healthiest drinks overall. Green tea contains a huge number of antioxidants, which are very beneficial and can help prevent disease. If you’re looking to lose weight, sipping an umami rich green tea between meals can help curb the urge to munch on not so healthy snacks. Drinking it with a delicious meal can help you stick to an appropriate serving size rather than overeat, too.
Incorporating umami into your daily diet can actually quite easy. Eating natural umami foods regularly is a positive diet decision because many of these foods are very good for you to begin with. A lot of vegetables contain umami, meaning that there are lower calorie options available. Protein sources like chicken and seafood contain umami, and as long as you buy meats that do not contain added hormones or antibiotics, this can be a healthy choice as well.
The fact that L-Glutamate causes you to feel full means that eating umami foods can help you control your appetite while eating healthy, which is exactly what is needed if you’re trying to lose weight. It’s easy to find a diet where you eat bland foods or cut out an entire food group or eat very few calories, but none of these diets are sustainable in the long-term. The absolute best way to live is to eat what is good for your body, and if great foods can taste amazing and help you lose weight at the same time, then why not try it out?
If you’re someone who is very busy, you can take a few hours one day and make a large batch of soup or stew containing a few umami ingredients, then freeze it. This way, you have umami foods easily available when you’re low on time. Another great way to save time is to take a few umami foods that you can eat as snacks and put them in small bags for every day of the week.
This way you can grab a bag of healthy snacks on your way out the door each day. Having a large pitcher of green tea in the fridge at all times is useful as well, since you can make enough for a few days at a time and have it waiting for you anytime you want it. Clearly, an umami diet is easy, healthy, and satisfying.
Staying aware of exactly what you put into your body is an important part of being healthy, and of losing weight. Portion control can be difficult, especially if you are used to eating foods high in MSG; switching to umami foods can be an awesome lifestyle change and an effective way to lose weight.
If you often cook for yourself or your family, and you want to make delicious and healthy foods, go to the next page to find out more Alkaline Cooking…
About the Author:
Emma Deangela is the best selling author of Alkaline Cook, The Alkaline Diet Program and 80/20 Fat Loss. She has helped over tens of thousands of men and women to lose weight and transform their health with sound nutrition advice.
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