What We Do

Umami Digest breaks down the delicious and messy history of the storied ‘fifth taste sensation’ umami (Japanese for deliciousness or tastiness). It reflects the ongoing work of an interdisciplinary, undergraduate research team housed within the UCLA Institute for Society and Genetics. Our project, “Monosodium Glutamate (MSG): Toxic or Delicious?”, recognizes that umami is simultaneously scientific and cultural. We comb through scientific journals, culinary magazines, mainstream news outlets, and online discussion forums to deliver bite-sized morsels of umami insight for the food-interested reader. Specific sources include American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Toxicology, Current Opinion in Food Science, Trends in Food Science & Technology, Journal of Pediatrics, Journal of Pediatric Health Care, Bon Appétit, and Reddit.

Although our research goals are constantly evolving, here are some of our preliminary questions:

  • How does public perception of MSG and umami compare with scientific information on the subject?
  • Is a purely scientific, value-free understanding of MSG toxicity an attainable goal?
  • What do we know about how free glutamate is metabolized in the body? Is there a specific pathway that can be linked to MSG toxicity?
  • Have opposing sides of the debate pertaining to the nature of MSG reached any consensus?
  • Does scientific literature appear in favor of MSG consumption or does it raise significant health concerns?
  • Assuming MSG poses health risks, are children differently vulnerable than adults?
  • How is umami portrayed and marketed in the culinary world?
  • What are public perceptions of MSG outside of the US? Scientific perceptions?
  • How do umami and MSG appear in the local Los Angeles food scene?
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