Mushrooms: Nature’s Flavor Enhancer


Monosodium glutamate, also known as sodium glutamate and MSG, is a sodium salt of glutamic acid, a naturally occurring non-essential amino acid. It is used as a food additive and is commonly marketed as a flavor enhancer.

For decades, concerns have been raised on anecdotal grounds, and hypotheses have been put forward, that MSG may be associated with migraine headaches, food allergies in children, obesity, and hyperactivity in children.

Subsequent research by dozens of health centers and universities around the world, however, have found that, while large doses of MSG given without food may elicit more symptoms than a placebo in individuals who believe that they react adversely to MSG, the frequency of the responses was low and the responses reported were inconsistent, not reproducible, and not observed when MSG was given with food.

In the 2004 version of his book On Food and Cooking, food enthusiast and author Harold McGee states that “[after many studies], toxicologists have concluded that MSG is a harmless ingredient for most people, even in large amounts.

Still, the reports suggest that less than 1% of the population, sensitive individuals may experience “transient” side effects such as “headache, numbness/tingling, flushing, muscle tightness, and generalised weakness” to a large amount of MSG taken in a single meal.

So, if you’re trying, for whatever reason, to avoid MSG…did you know that the same flavor enhancing proteins, called glutamates, in MSG are found naturally in mushrooms?

Natural glutamate is also found in Parmesan cheese, soy sauce, anchovies, and tomato juice.

Next time you want to add a little “umami” to your dish, dice a pound of mushrooms, and saute over low heat (covered) with a little salt until the mushrooms release their liquid, then strain through cheesecloth or a fine seive…and add the broth to your dish for a natural flavor enhancer!

Anchovie fillets, finely diced are often added to pasta sauces to add depth of flavor.

Much like mushroom broth, a  small about of diced anchovies will boost the flavor profile of a dish, without being noticeable as its own distinct flavor.

2 Comments

Filed under Misc Recipes, Technique

2 responses to “Mushrooms: Nature’s Flavor Enhancer

  1. Excellent post – extremely educational for me on both the MSG and mushrooms. The extra fresh oyster mushrooms in my steak post two weeks ago had a umami flavor but now I know why.

    When I was younger, my girlfriend had an odd reaction to MSG – she found it to be an aphrodisiac. Needless to say, I always liked taking her to Chinese food restaurants.

  2. That’s awesome!

    “Psst…hey dude, you wanna buy some ecstasy?”
    “Nah…you got any subgum chow mein?”

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