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Umami: the "fifth taste" that MSG-sensitive people can't taste


Wouldn't it be wonderful if the glutamic acid in processed free glutamic acid (MSG) had a delicious, robust, easily identifiable taste of its own!  Even if the taste was unpleasant instead of delicious, it would still be wonderful.  Wonderful because at least the adults who are sensitive to MSG could easily identify the MSG in their food, and, if they chose to do so, they could refuse to eat it.  Just think of it. Infants and small children would still be at risk, but adult consumers could identify and avoid MSG. For adults, MSG-induced migraine headaches, tachycardia, skin rash, irritable bowels, seizures, depression, and all of the other MSG-induced maladies, might become nothing more than bad memories.  It surely would be wonderful.

Ajinomoto, Co., Inc. claims that their researchers have identified/isolated a "fifth taste."  The "fifth taste," they tell us, is the "taste" of processed free glutamic acid (MSG).  They call their alleged "fifth taste" Umami.

Is there a "fifth taste?"  Is Umami a fifth taste?  Early encyclopedia definitions of monosodium glutamate (which contains MSG, sodium, moisture, and not more than 1 per cent impurities/contaminants) claim that monosodium glutamate is an essentially tasteless substance. Most MSG-sensitive people claim that there is no taste to MSG.  Could it be, then, that Umami is little more than a clever contrivance/device/public relations effort to draw attention away from the fact that MSG is toxic?

We started writing about Umami years ago.  We were already familiar with the research that the glutamate industry (the glutes) used to claim that Umami was a fifth taste; and we knew that, with possible rare exception, all of that research had been funded by Ajinomoto, Co., Inc. and/or their friends and agents -- people with a history of producing badly flawed research, and publishing only those studies approved by those who fund them.  We also had the impression (only an impression, not the results of a survey) that researchers outside of the direct employ, or the indirect largess of the glutamate industry, found the idea of a fifth taste to be without merit.

We thought that we should begin by making the case that what the glutes call the taste produced by MSG is not a taste, per see, but is, instead, little or nothing more than the vague sensation that nerves are firing.  We would start by reminding our readers that MSG stands for manufactured free glutamic acid; that glutamic acid is a neurotransmitter; and that as a neurotransmitter, the glutamic acid in MSG would carry nerve impulses to nerve cells called glutamate receptors, and trigger responses/reactions.  Then we would explain that there are glutamate receptor cells in the mouth and on the tongue, and that MSG could trigger reactions in those glutamate receptors -- leaving the person who was ingesting the MSG with the perception that food being ingested with MSG had a bigger, longer lasting taste than it would have had if there were no MSG present.  But hard as we tried, the words simply would not come.

And then it all came into focus. Umami is a clever contrivance/device/public relations effort to draw attention away from the fact that MSG is toxic.  Even as much as we know about the glutes, their goals, and their tactics, we had been conned.  We had fallen into the Umami trap -- using valuable time and energy thinking and writing about Umami when we should have been warning people about the toxic effects of MSG.  But worse yet, we were going to ask our readers to waste their valuable time and energy thinking about the taste of Umami instead of thinking about the toxic reactions caused by the MSG that is said to have the taste of Umami. MSG causes brain lesions and endocrine disorders including gross obesity and reproductive disorders. MSG causes learning and behavior disorders, retinal degeneration, mood swings, seizures, migraine headache, irritable bowels, and more.  Fifth taste or not, MSG is toxic.

Is Umami a fifth taste?  Ponder the question if you like.  But remember as you do so that fifth taste or not, Umami is also a clever contrivance/device/public relations effort to draw attention away from the fact that MSG is toxic.


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This page was last updated on October 23, 2010