Glutamate For Grilling: Is It Harmful Or Is It Necessary?

Some say it makes the steak ten times better. The others say: It is harmful. We are talking about glutamate, the well-known flavor enhancer. Does it make sense for grilling (and other things in the kitchen) or not? Time for an answer.

Glutamate quickly causes divided opinions, even on the grill. As a flavor enhancer, the salt of the glutamic acid provides more body – for the umami taste. Critics say the substance causes uncomfortable symptoms in sensitive individuals and makes inferior ingredients taste good. According to the current state of knowledge, it can be stated that glutamate is harmless in normal household quantities. However, you don’t have to rely on it to bring umami flavor to your grilled dishes. Soy sauce, celery and tomatoes naturally contain glutamate and make dishes heartier – even vegan ones.

What is glutamate?

From a chemical point of view, glutamate is the salt of glutamic acid, which in turn is one of the essential amino acids. Basically, the substance occurs naturally in the body.

Glutamate is also found naturally in many foods, such as soy sauce and parmesan. However, its use as an ingredient in Asian dishes and convenience products is usually artificial. Monosodium glutamate, a synthetic salt, is used here. It is known as a flavor enhancer and has its own E number: E 621. An alternative is yeast extract. This is not pure glutamate, but the proportion is very high.

The fifth sense of taste: umami

So much for the chemical background. It is interesting how glutamate works. It appeals to special taste receptors on the tongue that are responsible for the so-called umami taste. Along with salty, sweet, sour and bitter, it is one of the five main taste sensations. Umami cannot be described exactly. In general, the taste is considered full-bodied and spicy, sometimes also as meaty or hearty. The translation of the Japanese word again means tasty. So, all in all, umami is a desired flavor in savory dishes.

For this reason, glutamate is added to various products. This makes them taste fuller and better. In addition, the fifth sense of taste has another special property: it enhances other aromas. Vegetables, meat or spices are therefore tasted more intensively when glutamate is involved.

Is glutamate harmful?

So far, the properties of glutamate are quite positive. However, the additive has fallen into disrepute. The “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” was first described in 1968. Various people have reported experiencing symptoms such as neck pain, heart palpitations, and headaches after consuming foods flavored with glutamate. To this day it is uncertain whether this was originally a joke among medical professionals or whether the corresponding letters to the editor in a specialist journal were meant seriously. The fact is: In the decades that followed, glutamate and its effect on the body were intensively studied – even if not always methodologically sensible. According to the current state of knowledge, the consumption of glutamate in amounts customary in the kitchen is harmless.

Another point of criticism, however, is that the flavor enhancer makes inferior ingredients taste better and tempts you to eat more. These arguments cannot be dismissed out of hand. When it comes to barbecuing, many people also want to prepare food naturally. The use of synthetic spices does not usually go well with this.

Do we need glutamate for grilling?

Basically it can be said: No spice is indispensable. Adding salt or pepper to food is ultimately a private matter. The situation is similar with glutamate, although it makes sense to take a look at the advantages and disadvantages in order to form your own opinion.

Benefits of Glutamate

  • It enhances the taste of various dishes, and also makes steaks and seafood taste more intense.
  • In Asian grill dishes, glutamate often provides the authentic taste as in the restaurant.
  • Vegan substitute products have a hearty umami note, and thanks to the smoke and glutamate they taste similar to meat.

Disadvantages of Glutamate

  • The natural taste of your grilled dishes will be distorted.
  • Anyone who consumes glutamate frequently perceives natural foods as bland.
  • The flavor enhancer tempts you to eat more.
  • Goods of inferior quality supposedly taste better.
  • It is not a natural product.

Consequently, there are a number of advantages and disadvantages. Many grillers choose not to use glutamate as a standalone seasoning. However, a look at the list of ingredients shows that many finished sausages and marinades contain flavor enhancers.

Grilling with umami flavor

There are supporters and opponents of glutamate for grilling. But the fact is that the umami taste is definitely desired for steaks and the like. Marinades that naturally contain glutamate and provide a more hearty taste are often used for this. Foods high in glutamate that are suitable for marinades include the following.

Foods high in glutamate

  • Sun-dried tomatoes
  • Tomato paste
  • Soy sauce
  • Mushrooms
  • Peanuts
  • Saddlery
  • The yeast flock.

By using these ingredients in your marinade, you can flavor your dishes naturally with glutamate without resorting to isolated flavor enhancers. If you want to use glutamate or want to try the effect, it is advisable to add the salt to the marinade.

More questions about glutamate

We have compiled and answered the most important questions about the myth of glutamate.

Where is glutamate found?

Glutamate occurs naturally in many foods. Broccoli and celery, for example, are among the vegetables with a high glutamate content. It is also found in meat, such as poultry and beef.

Is there glutamate in cheese?

Cheese can be high in glutamate, especially parmesan and blue cheese. These varieties can therefore be used to bring the umami taste into food in a natural way.

What does glutamate do to the body?

As the salt of glutamic acid, glutamate is involved in various processes in the body. The best known is the effect as a flavor enhancer. Other flavors are perceived as more full-bodied when food is flavored with glutamate.

Does salmon have glutamate?

Salmon contains glutamate, which is why it is one of the fish with a particularly hearty aroma. For this reason, salmon is ideal for grilling.

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Written by Elizabeth Bailey

As a seasoned recipe developer and nutritionist, I offer creative and healthy recipe development. My recipes and photographs have been published in best selling cookbooks, blogs, and more. I specialize in creating, testing, and editing recipes until they perfectly provide a seamless, user-friendly experience for a variety of skill levels. I draw inspiration from all types of cuisines with a focus on healthy, well-rounded meals, baked goods and snacks. I have experience in all types of diets, with a specialty in restricted diets like paleo, keto, dairy-free, gluten-free, and vegan. There is nothing I enjoy more than conceptualizing, preparing, and photographing beautiful, delicious, and healthy food.

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