Thursday, March 06, 2008

Sprinkled Quotes: To 'Aji' or Not to 'Aji'

Illustration by NYT 03-06-08

In Yes, MSG, the Secret Behind the Savor, Julia Moskin looks into the controversial history of monosodium glutamate, or MSG.

Like many Asian-American families, mine used Ajinomoto as a flavor enhnancer to add a little oomph to mediocre ingredients. But, when the occasion called for it, we went with fresh tastes that provided their own natural umami. The quote by chef Sotohiro Kosugi rings a culinary memory as clear as a temple bell.

"In upscale restaurants, whether by tradition or by inclination, chefs are unlikely to use monosodium glutamate. “We don’t need to use Ajinomoto because we can get the ingredients that have natural umami: shiitake mushrooms, egg yolks, shellfish, masago,” said Sotohiro Kosugi, the chef of Soto in New York.

"Although umami is only a bit player in Japanese cuisine, reams of breathless prose have been produced here on this elusive fifth taste, which is supposedly linked to the profoundly pure, deep-sea flavors of kelp and dried tuna."

The history of MSG is controversial because, although glutamates have been clinically shown not to be a health risk for the vast majority of consumers, it's still seen as no-no for the health-conscious.

"[Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition at New York University,] did not even mention MSG in her recent book What to Eat, much of which is devoted to health concerns over food additives. 'I thought the issue was settled, though I know a lot of people will never believe that,' she said."

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