Botanical Nutrition

by Rob Seeman official blogger of the health food movement


Leave a comment

What makes Miso the ultimate umami souper food?

Miso is the most prevalent form of fermented food in the world, traditionally made from fermented soybeans, aspergillus oryzae culture (koji) and salt.  Other ingredients are frequently incorporated such as grains, sea vegetables, mushrooms and scallions.

Miso is a traditional soup which has been popular in Japan for hundreds of years, and is linked back to origins in China in the 3rd century BCE  and another fermented food called Hishio.

Food Movement Miso

Have you ever eaten in a sushi or traditional Japanese restaurant? Chances are you’ve had Miso soup.  But did you know it has some amazing health benefits as well?

Miso owes it’s highly satisfying savory taste to the interaction between protein phytochemicals called glutamates, and their interaction with various other peptides.  In fermentation the components of the original soy bean are transformed, made digestible, and given that unique “Umami” taste.

Studies indicate that Miso may lower blood pressure through the activation of the body’s dopamine pathways, may help to prevent stroke,  and to even protect against cancer and radiation exposure.

There is a definite connection between Miso’s unique properties, the Umami taste, and the presence of unique glutamates and peptides formed by fermentation.  In addition, the savory flavor may bet activating part of our pallet and our brain that is missing when we concentrate only on salty and sweet foods.


Leave a comment

うま味 Umami : the Fifth Taste of Super Foods

Umami, known as the fifth taste, is a Japanese word うま味 meaning “pleasant savory taste.” Are you falling into the American taste trap of too much salty, too much sweet and not enough of anything else? Well, don’t fast forward by bitter or pungent, either… but you really will benefit from exploring the savory protein flavor known as Umami.

boneless broth mushroom bowl

In 1908 Japanese scientist Kikunae Ikeda coined the term for his discoveries around the taste by combining the words for Umai うまい meaning delicious and mi 味 meaning taste. In 1985 Umami was recognized as the scientific term for the taste of amino acid compounds called glutamates, and nucleotides.

We now know through the work of scientists studying Umami that this taste has its own unique receptors in the human palette.  Before this discovery in the early 21st century it was largely considered to be an enhancement to other flavors or tastes. Certain amino acids, such as glutamate, react with certain nucleotides to greatly intensify the perception of this taste. Research indicates that when the Umami taste is already exhibited in glutamate rich foods, the nucleotide inosinate can increase the Umami by a factor of 8.

An article in Popular Science observes, “All those strong-flavored, highly concentrated foods, like anchovies, prosciutto, Parmesan, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, fish sauce, Marmite, blue cheese, miso: those are the ones that are packed with available glutamate.”

I have long been a fan of vegetable broths and soup stocks as a way to get lots of nutrition (and healing comfort) into the body in a tasty way.  One of the most savory broths is Miso, a traditional Japanese fermentation generally made from soybeans and aspergillus oryzae (Koji) and some times other ingredients such as seaweed, barley, or rice.  Miso is also one of the most Umami foods, and correspondingly – one of the richest dietary sources of Glutamate.

Glutamate is a neurotransmitter which is one of the most abundant molecules, and most common excitatory neurotransmitters, in the brain.  It is also a precursor to the inhibitory neurotransmitter amino acid GABA, which is often found to one of the greatest factors in relaxation and mental focus.  The metabolism of glutamate is critical to both excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters.

Glutamate is also used by the body to help excrete excess nitrogen, and to produce energy as part of the citric acid cycle, being involved in the metabolism of pyruvate and alpha-ket o glutamic acid.  This process is an intrinsic part of the creation of energy at a cellular level.

The taste of Umami, whether from a rich seaweed miso broth, from fermented fish, or from mushrooms, can be correlated with not just delicious taste; but potentially also great health benefits.  A small number of individuals may have an allergic reaction to glutamate rich foods, and to glutamate rich food additives such as MSG (mono-s odium glutamate) which is sometimes added to foods as an intense flavor enhancer. For the majority of us, glutamate rich foods can be an important way to get our savory souper foods!