Umami: A solution to unsavory food additives?
In western cooking we primarily focus on the flavors of sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. The missing fifth element...? Savory. In Japan this is referred to as Umami.
The depth and complexity of savory foods such as mushrooms, steak, seaweed, and ferments like sour kraut come from naturally occurring glutamic acids. These acids stimulate receptors in the brain and offer a satisfying boost. They help the body to produce GABA, a neurotransmitter essential to wellbeing.
As with many things, refining has lead to a white powdery concentrated substance which some describe as addictive and far worse. It is called Monosodium Glutamate, or MSG. It is found commercially as a pure white powder touted as "all natural" branded, Accent.
Much like highly refined glucose and sucrose (table sugar), sodium chloride (table salt), or cocaine, these substances are not real food anymore. They are addictive food additives which people are wisely cautioned to avoid.
Unfortunately this leads some to avoid taking in what their body is appropriately craving out of actual need. Unrefined salts and fruits appear to require a much greater consumption than their refined counterparts to cause harm to a similar extent as their addictive additive cousins. Additionally, these unrefined substances come packaged with other minerals and nutrients that often help to balance and mitigate the impact of their fellow complete food components.
So how do we achieve savory without it becoming a succubus, whispering seductively to us while it saps our energy?
Avoiding the powder is a solid step. This step is much easier while satisfying the legitimate craving and need of the neurotransmitter.
Meat, eggs, fish, dairy, and seaweed are excellent options to satisfy your cravings. A favorite here at the store is miso, a fermented bean paste that is the base of an amazing soup. You have probably enjoyed it while a teppanyaki chef made onions into a volcano before tossing shrimp tails into his hat.
Dulse is another option to consider. This finely chopped seaweed can be sprinkled onto and into dishes as you might use salt or Accent. Bonus! Dulse may help in restoration of gut health, feeding the bacteria which produce enzymes that help break down certain foods. Some say it even leads to reduces flatulence. You will notice that some beans in our canned section even come with seaweed already added.
However you choose to approach your plate, we hope this helps you to focus on your cravings as needs best met through real and complete foods.
We are here to help you search for savory fare with savoir faire.
See you at the market!