Umami has recently become the term du jour in the US. We have a chain called Umami Burger. Cooking sites discuss ways to enhance umami with mushrooms and tomato paste. But the Japanese have known umami by name for a century, and its cooks have mastered ways to amplify this “fifth flavor” by using seaweed, fish, and the contentious additive known as monosodium glutamate, or MSG.
For The New Yorker, Helen Rosner narrates her own love affair with MSG, which led her to visit the world’s largest MSG producer, Ajinomoto in Tokyo. Wrongly accused of causing headaches, MSG has shucked the lies of so-called “Chinese Restaurant Syndrom” and fallen back into favor. It’s Ajinomoto who has built an empire selling simple ways to improve the depth of our foods’ flavor, whether we know it’s in there or not.
The factory complex is a sprawling campus of production buildings…
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