Friday, February 18, 2011

msg me

for many years i have claimed to experience adverse reactions to the food additive MSG.
headaches, physical numbness, depression, loss of mental acuity. back in high school, i was clever enough to refuse to drive after an msg-laden meal, and on several occasions there have been shameful, public, postprandial crying tantrums. 
it's not a good trip.
my bro, who is often my udon, pho, or chinese food dinner companion, has experienced me in this ridiculous state far too many times, and forwarded me an article the other day about monosodium glutamate that claimed all of my symptoms were scientifically unfounded and therefore probably psychosomatic. to that i say, bull$%*#!
why would i, who so loves far-eastern fare, pretend to feel like i'm on a 5-day coke bender every time i eat it!? 
obviously i would not.
anyway, the message is not the msg (you see what i did there?), because i could totally geek out and talk endlessly about its chemical structure and how it's produced, and my own intolerance to it, and yadi-yadi-yada, that's so effing uninteresting.
what i really want to discuss is the reason that msg is such a popular and widely used food additive, like, why does it make food taste so much better? 
still, i'm going to have to issue a nerd alert.
(if you're at all scared of possibly learning something new today, skip over 1-6 and go straight to the chicken noodle soup recipe below.)
1. msg is a salt of glutamate - in its acid form glutamate is glutamic acid, an amino acid we naturally produce in the body. 
2. msg is mass produced in this salt form for chemical stability and to make it easier to add to food, but free glutamate is what our taste buds are really after, and that's what is apparently responsible for the taste 'umami'. 
3. you may know umami as that elusive taste that is not quite as easy to define as salty, sweet, bitter, or sour (perhaps because it's a japanese name and literally translates to "delicious taste"). for all intents and purposes, umami is defined in english as 'savoury'.
4. the umami taste, and glutamate, were kind of discovered together when a japanese professor asked his wife why her soup broth was so damn good. she told him she prepared it using kelp, and he figured out that the kelp contained high levels of glutamate, and then became super rich by inventing msg. clever guy.
5. there are lots of foods that naturally contain glutamate; ripe tomatoes, kelp, parmesan cheese, shitake mushrooms and fermented and cured foods like soy sauce and meats.
6. another food that contains really high levels of glutamate....breast milk! thas riiight. the 2 flavours of breast milk are sweet and umami, hoping to appeal to the baby through either one. as if we don't all know that there are two types of people in this world: those who prefer savoury, and those who prefer sweets. nature designed it so that either way, mama's little baby is gonna eat up and grow!! (biology is so COOL!).

finally, let's talk about cooking!
because prepared chicken broth and bouillon cubes contain msg and make me thirsty for days, i make my chicken soup from scratch and i think it's way more tasty. add some kelp and tomatoes to the mix, and you're in umami heaven.
peel and cut in half: cooking onions (1 or 2), carrots (2 large), parsnip (1). 
wash and half: celery sticks (2-3), red pepper (1), tomato (1).
boil a large pot of water and throw all your veggies in. add a chicken neck/drumstick or two, some salt, pepper, a bay leaf, a bunch of flat-leaf parsley and a handful of kelp. then cover the pot. 
let that stuff cook on medium for an hour or so, then turn the heat off and let cool.

when it's not too hot, strain the fluids into another pot using a fine mesh strainer. remove some of the vegetables and chicken and cut them up small, adding them back into the clean broth. feed the remaining solid stuff to your dog or pet pig.
when you're ready to eat, throw some egg noodles into the soup and let it boil for 10 minutes. yumami!

chicken scratch

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