The addition of umami compounds or foods rich in umami, allows for reductions in sodium content of foods without sacrificing taste, liking and pleasantness, according to a review of the existing evidence conducted by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
The resulting reduction in sodium may vary depending on the type of food consumed, as well as the amount and type of umami compounds present. Overall dietary intake of sodium was not evaluated in these studies. Based on the scale used by the Academy, the overall strength of the available evidence supporting this finding was "Grade I" or "good." (Grade I= good; Grade II = fair; Grade III = limited; Grade IV = expert opinion; Grade V, not assignable).
"Umami is the lesser known basic taste, in addition to salty, sweet, bitter and sour," said Kristi Crowe, PhD, RD. "It's only fairly recently that we in Western societies have come to understand umami, which is present in broths, aged cheeses, tomatoes and other products that contain glutamate, a common amino acid and protein component."
Monosodium glutamate (MSG), the sodium salt of glutamate and produced through fermentation of molasses, is widely used around the world as a seasoning or flavor enhancer. It is classified as "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. But for decades, there have been questions and confusion about the presence of MSG in foods and its connection with umami as a basic taste sensation. "The purpose of the Evidence Analysis Library (EAL) project was to help Registered Dietitians understand the facts about umami and MSG, both from a science and culinary perspective," Crowe explained.
The EAL further reported that based on the existing evidence, in healthy adults, four studies showed inconsistent results on the presence of reactions after ingestion of monosodium glutamate (MSG). In children or adults with chronic urticaria (two studies) ingestion of MSG did not worsen symptoms. In adults with asthma (two studies), ingestion of MSG did not worsen symptoms. (Overall strength of the available supporting evidence, Grade II = fair.)
Members of the Academy evaluate nutrition and health-related questions using a pre-defined and calibrated approach to ensure objectivity, transparency and reproducibility of the process. Available information is analyzed by an expert workgroup which synthesizes and grades the strength of evidence supporting their conclusions.
The Glutamate Association (TGA) seeks to provide an effective channel of communication among its members, the public, the media, the scientific community, food professionals and government officials about the use and safety of glutamate. TGA also seeks to assure that relevant research and information on the safety and efficacy of MSG are made available to all interested parties.