The hearty, elusive flavor of umami may be as full as it gets you. A new study released by University of Sussex researchers shows food with umami flavors tend to reduce people’s appetite without cutting their satisfaction with the meal.
Obesity is a well-worn epidemic in the U.S., and any strategy worth its salt at improving eating habits should be taken seriously. The new research suggests the popular flavor enhancer monosodium glutamate, or MSG, as it’s more often known, adds depth to soup and actually makes it feel heartier. For the more than one-third of adults who are currently obese, the findings could help motivate smarter eating habits with little effort.
“Monosodium glutamate (MSG) has been shown to increase satiety when combined with protein,” the researchers wrote. For the latest study they wanted to find out how MSG could affect satiety, or feelings of fullness, when it came to foods that also featured prominent amounts of carbohydrates. They tested people’s reaction to soup.
Twenty-seven people comprised the small study. Researchers split them into two groups. Each had the same breakfast, before one group was fed a soup laced with heavy amounts of MSG, while the other group’s contained no MSG. This MSG was not alone, however, as lead author and University researcher Una Masic points out. It was paired with another nucleotide that’s often used to boost umami flavors, known as inosine monophosphate (IMP). “It’s the additional IMP mixed with the MSG that reduced intake whilst maintaining satisfaction,” Masic told Medical Daily. “IMP is normally found in very high protein foods such as skipjack tuna and some forms of seaweed.” After both groups ate their soup, they sat down for lunch.
The goal was to isolate the MSG group’s feelings of hunger and satisfaction after they had finished their lunch. Through self-reported survey, the team found subjects were just as satisfied in the MSG group as in the non-MSG group; however, they also ate significantly less food than the other group. The team deduced it was the umami flavor that spurred the change in appetite.
Umami is the most recent addition to the palate’s palette. Sweet, salty, bitter, and sour have existed for ages, but science has never had a savory taste. Umami is the full-bodied taste you find in broths, in protein dishes, in soy sauce, and, if Umami Burger has anything to say, even in foods with high sugar contents. Research has started to cast doubt on this quintet, too, however.
“What started off as a challenge to the pantheon of basic tastes has now opened up, so that the whole question is whether taste is even limited to a very small number of primaries,” said Richard D. Mattes, a professor of nutrition science at Purdue University, to the New York Times.
Added to the complexity of taste’s role in regulating appetite are the string of receptors that don’t even sit on our tongue, but instead line the walls of our digestive tract. These receptors trigger the release of certain hormones that cause us to feel full or hungry — endocrine hormones, for instance, like cholecystokinin, which causes us to feel sated.
According to Masic, even though the study used MSG and IMP levels near the high end of what a person would consume in daily life, there may be some value in adopting such a high-protein, umami-intense diet. And there won’t be any “Chinese restaurant syndrome” to worry about either,” she said. “There is no scientific evidence to show that MSG adversely affects individuals when consumed. It is utilized by the liver, with any excess excreted by the body,” she added. “Similarly, as it does not pass through the blood-brain barrier it is not used by the brain.”
Source: Masic U, Yeomans M. Umami flavor enhances appetite but also increases satiety. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2014.