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Food editors prefer "umami" taste sensation.

Being a taste panelist is hard work. Not only does the job require a well-trained sense of smell and taste, it also means being able to accurately describe the collective experience of flavor perception.

One group particularly suited to this task, food editors, put their senses to work during an IFIC-sponsored workshop "Savor the Flavor in Food," during the International Food Media Conference in Orlando.

Research in taste physiology has shown that there are many more tastes beyond the classic four of sweet, sour, salty and bitter, according to Susan Schiffman, Ph.D., professor of medical psychology and director of the weight loss clinic at Duke University Medical Center.

One taste sensation now gaining recognition among Western cultures is known as "umami." The umami taste is conveyed by several substances naturally occurring in foods, including glutamate.

Food media conferees were challenged to identify the umami taste provided by glutamate in one of three samples of chicken stock. The samples were all prepared from the same basic recipe using chicken parts and vegetables, varying only in the presence or absence of salt and monosodium glutamate (MSG). The editors were not informed which samples contained which seasonings.

When asked to identify the broth that conveyed the umami taste, 60 percent of the editors correctly identified the stock containing MSG.

In terms of taste preferences, however, 75 percent of the editors indicated they preferred the broth with the umami flavor contributed by glutamate. They described the taste as "rich," "well-rounded" "savory," "full-bodied," "brothy," and "more chicken-like."

Although umami was first identified by Oriental cooks 1200 years ago, it wasn't until the turn of this century that scientists isolated glutamate and other substances which convey this distinctive flavor. Sensory research shows that glutamate does not enhance any of the four classic tastes, nor can the umami taste be formed by any combination of the classic four.

Glutamate is an amino acid that is found throughout the human body. It's also naturally present in protein-rich foods such as cheese, meat, fish and human milk. When present in its "free" form in foods--not bound together with other amino acids in protein--glutamate exerts its umami-flavor effect.

MSG added to foods provides a similar flavoring function as the "free" glutamate that occurs naturally in foods. It is often used to flavor meats, poultry, seafood, soups, stews, sauces and gravies.

Thirty-eight percent of the editors mistakenly identified the salt-only chicken stock as the one containing MSG. Although many people have the misperception that MSG makes food taste saltier, MSG contains only one-third the amount of sodium as table salt. MSG can be used in many foods to reduce the total amount of sodium by 20 to 40 percent, while maintaining an acceptable flavor.

MSG is classified by the Food and Drug Administration as a Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) substance. All foods with added MSG must list the ingredient on the label monosodium glutamate.

In conducting clinical research on person with taste and smell impairments, Schiffman also has found that any consumers mistakenly believe MSG is a preservative or meat tenderizer.

"Having experienced the umami taste sensation first-hand, hopefully editors can help educate consumers about MSG's unique and flavorful contribution to foods," she aid.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Frozen Food Digest, Inc.
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Publication:Frozen Food Digest
Date:Jul 1, 1992
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