The Japanese word “umami” can be translated as deliciousness, yumminess, more-ishness. The purpose here is to look back over what has been said, and then see what’s new.
Umami is a taste sensation caused by glutamic acid, an amino acid that appears in fermented, aged, ripened foods. As with sugar cane and cocaine, the end users prefer the distilled and compacted version of it. In concentrated form, the temptation molecule is called monosodium glutamate, and its nickname is MSG.
For some people, it makes food taste better. For about 40 percent of Americans, it makes them feel physically ill in one way or another. This malady used to be called Chinese Restaurant Syndrome, but the joke, to people who know and care about such things, is that now it should be called Every Restaurant Syndrome.
And why should anyone care? Maybe because the corporation that makes quite a lot of money off MSG also financed most of the studies showing the product’s virtues. It makes food more tempting, which just might be a problem because most of the humans on the planet appear to already find food much too tempting.
In “Does Dr. Evil Work for the Food Industry?” we mentioned that MSG has been linked to more than 30 adverse physical conditions, including obesity. We discussed how researchers obtain obese lab rats if that is what their experiment calls for. Hint: The method involves injecting standard lab rats with a certain substance that has three initials, and the first one is M.
The rodents can develop a constellation of symptoms that looks like addiction, and MSG seems to increase their appetite by 40 percent, according to Spanish scientists.
Maybe we should care because extreme tastiness leads to overeating, and overeating leads to obesity, which is what we are here for. As Dr. Pretlow says,
The pleasure of the foods cancels emotional pain for the time it takes to consume them and perhaps during the anticipation phase and after thoughts. But once the pleasure fades, reality comes crashing back in that we’ve done something that will now make our lives more miserable.
And what does a miserable person do? A miserable person eats! Call it a vicious cycle, a vicious circle, a negative spiral, or whatever, this phenomenon is not good.
In “You and Umami: What the Heck Are We Eating?“, we learned how Dr. David Kessler would like to return to the good old days when people did not graze constantly, and certainly not in public; and why he calls modern food “adult baby food.” We quoted Arun Gupta, who says that umami “elicits an actual neurochemical, physiological response,” and believes that MSG is as highly addictive as the combinations of fat, sugar, and salt that people find irresistible.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!