Everyone's been buzzing about Umami Burgers ever since GQ Magazine named it the best burger last year. It's a California chain that sells burgers featuring umami ingredients -- umami, of course, refers to the “fifth taste” (after sweet, sour, salty, and bitter) and is also known as the "savory" or “meaty” flavor.
Now, the interesting thing about umami is that it inspired the creation of MSG. In fact, many processed foods -- like soups, chips, and boxed macaroni and cheese -- have an umami flavor thanks to this processed additive (which incidentally has a bad reputation here in the United States for causing allergies and headaches).
So does the recent obsession with umami as a food trend really mean that we are obsessed with MSG?
Well, not so fast.
There are actually foods that naturally have a strong umami taste -- for example, Parmesan cheese, dried mushrooms, wine, seaweed, tomatoes, and anchovies. Many of the burgers at Umami Burgers feature these ingredients; for instance, the best-selling burger at the chain features grilled shiitake mushrooms, Parmesan cheese, and roasted tomatoes.
Now, the chain's sauces are another story: They do contain MSG, but it's an organic and house-made version, so that's better for us, right? Hard to say, but the true fact of the matter is that despite MSG's bad rap, some studies suggest that the additive (at least in moderate amounts) doesn't cause ill effects. At least that's a convenient justification for those of us who crave the tasty additive.
Nevertheless, the MSG haters can obviously get their umami fix through other avenues -- the foods mentioned above as well as umami paste, which is a food seasoning made from real food (not chemicals).
But it will be interesting to see whether our newfound awareness of umami will inadvertently lead us -- well, some of us at least -- to find a way to tolerate MSG in our attempts to satiate our cravings for savoriness.
Are you afraid of MSG?
Image via Yogma/Flickr