MGZ finds Taste No. 5 Umami Paste, a flavoring paste made from tomatoes with olives, vinegar, mushrooms, cheese, and spices, to be an unthinkably foul violation of the spirit of cuisine. “What’s next, spiritual fulfillment in an aerosol spray?” says MGZ.

An even more elemental shortcut to the meaty umami flavor has long been available in the form of MSG, sold under the brand name Ac’cent, says mamachef. “Tasting MSG is what umami is: MSG is monosodium glutamate. Glutamate is an amino acid and a neurotransmitter. You have glutamate receptors on your tongue, and that’s how you sense umami,” explains vivianna. “You can get glutamate when proteins break down into their amino acid constituents, which would be the natural way of coming by umami flavoring, but at the molecular level it’s not different than shaking on some Ac’cent or other packaged MSG. You just get more complexity with the naturally containing foods because purified MSG is just MSG.”

But umami is more complex than that, says MGZ. “Umami is bigger than the sum of its parts,” says MGZ. “In the century since Ikeda tried to decode what made dashi so magically delicious, it has proven that there is more to umami than the glutamate originally assigned the appellation. For example, the science has clearly expanded to prove the roles of the ribonucleotides.”

“Umami in dashi is still elusive and hopefully always retains some of that quality,” says MGZ. “Admittedly, this notion is a bit romantic given the initial scientific guise of the inquiry. It seems, however, that the colloquial development of the term in Japanese culture during the seventy-five years before it began to waft into the western lexicon adopts that imprecise element.”

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