In search of umami, first follow-up

In my first post on umami, I mentioned that I would see if I could find some MSG at Whole Foods and also pick up some kombu seaweed, which is said to be high in umami.

Whole Foods is just about as MSG free as it is possible to be. I asked a spice captain if they carry any form of MSG. He was vaguely aware of the concept of umami and the doubts about the decades-long demonization of MSG, but the answer was still no. No MSG.

When the the guy at the cash register asked me if I found everything I was looking for, I said, “Everything but MSG.” He looked me like I was an alien. When I gave him a brief summary of the case that MSG is not as bad as we’ve been taught to believe and said that I want to experiment with it, I think he thought I was some kind of crank. Oh well. I did at least get some kombu seaweed.

Then I started shopping on Amazon for MSG, reading the reviews and other material to see if any brand said explicitly that it’s made by natural fermentation. One brand, Aji-No-Moto, does say on its web site that the MSG in the United States is made from the fermentation of corn sugar. Still, I wanted to buy MSG from an American company. McCormick & Company sells MSG. They’re an old American company, started in Baltimore, and still have their corporate offices in Maryland. I called them up, told them I’m a blogger, and asked about the source of their MSG. The consumer division passed me to the commercial division, and the commercial division passed me to the regulatory division. They were all very nice, but no one seemed to have any information about the source of their MSG. I decided to just go ahead and order some McCormick MSG from Amazon. I’ll post in the future about my experiments with MSG and what kind of alchemy it’s capable of in the kitchen.

But I can tell you this. MSG is sold in very large commercial quantities to somebody, and I seriously doubt that only Asian restaurants use it. Restaurants that use it probably have to keep it secret. But the demonization or even the rehabilitation of MSG is not my agenda. It’s just that I can’t help but be interested in a natural, apparently harmless substance that apparently can make such a difference in food. I’ve just got to experiment with it in my own kitchen…

One thought on “In search of umami, first follow-up”

  1. Every savory (as opposed to sweet) manufactured food in the supermarket contains high quantities of MSG, as do all fast food products and most of what is served in chain restaurants. You’ll see a lot of euphemisms on packages and on websites, words like “yeast extract”, “hydrolized yeast”, “textured protein”, etc.

    You’re undoubtedly familiar with Chik-fil-A. The top three ingredients in their signature sandwich: chicken, MSG, sugar. Food scientists figured out decades ago that you can feed people a LOT of sodium, and sugar, and fat, if you combine the three in preposterously large quantities per serving. This has the effect of masking the outlandish amounts of each. But it also induces a cycle of cravings and binges that have 2/3 of the country waddling around like black bears in late summer…

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