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New Chemical Alternative to MSG That is Coming Soon

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For anyone who’s ever wanted the savory taste of meats and cheeses without actually having to eat them, chemists have identified molecular mechanisms underlying the sensation of umami, also known as the fifth taste.

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The historically unappreciated taste is produced by two interacting sets of molecules, each of which is needed to trigger cellular receptors on your tongue’s surface.

“This opens the door to designing better, more potent and more selective umami enhancers,” said Xiaodong Li, a chemist at San Diego-based food-additive company Senomyx.

Four other basic tastes — bitter, sweet, salty and sour — were identified 2,400 years ago by the Greek philosopher Democritus, and became central to the western gastronomic canon.

In the late 19th century, French chef and veal-stock inventor Auguste Escoffier suggested that a fifth taste was responsible for his mouth-watering brew. Though Escoffier’s dishes were popular, his theories were dismissed until 1908, when Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda showed that an amino acid called glutamate underlies the taste of a hearty variety of seaweed soup.

In honor of Ikeda, the taste was dubbed umami, the Japanese word for delicious. It took another 80 years for umami to be recognized by science as comparable to the other four tastes.

In the meantime, monosodium glutamate became wildly popular as a flavor enhancer. But MSG can cause headaches and dizziness, and has been tenuously linked to long-term neurological disorders.

“The only way to have a substitute is to find the molecular target of glutamate. If we figure that out, then we can screen for agents that are not glutamate but could mimic it,” said Johns Hopkins University neuroscientist Solomon Snyder, who was not involved in the new study.

Li’s team have taken human kidney cells and added the genes for receptors linked to umami taste. Receptors form on the cells’ surface, geometrically resembling the mouth of a Venus flytrap. When glutamate is caught on a receptor’s lips and a molecule called ribonucleotide lodged in its throat, the receptor snaps shut.

“The configuration of the receptor changes, sending a signal down into the cell,” said Li. In their engineered and disconnected cells the signal quickly fizzled — but in a tongue surface cell, said Li, “Your brain gets a signal: Something tastes good that is in my mouth.”
Sources:

WIRED December 22, 2008
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences December 22, 2008

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News on Health & Science

Depressed? Have Some Soup

Time to be a Soup-o-holic!

Feeling low or bored, and don’t want to binge again? It’s time for your serving of soup for the soul! Move over that never-ending book series. Steaming fresh soups do a lot to keep you healthy and spirited. Whether it’s thick, rich and creamy or clear and light, these all weather stress-busters are a good bet to keep your taste buds alive without burdening the tummy. Here are some delectable varieties you must try…

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“Minestrone is my all time favorite”, says top restaurateur Ritu Dalmia. This classic Italian preparation is made from fresh beans, celery, carrots, tomato, onions and stock. “Cold soups are also a good option”, she adds, citing examples of the avocado and beetroot-strawberry soups she recently enjoyed on her trip abroad. I would personally recommend Chilled Cucumber soup which most French restaurants should offer. Other exotic varieties of the cold kind are the Andalusian Almond soup, which is thick and creamy with the flavor of raw almonds and sea salt, and the Iced Shrimp soup, a rarity which you must try wherever available.

And if you’d rather prefer a menu that’s closer home, you’re not alone! Model and former Miss India Nikita Anand swears by homemade soups. “I love my bowl of soup in winters. My mum makes great mushroom and chicken broth and clear spinach soup, and I prefer them to restaurant preparations because they’re simple, healthy and minimalist as far as spices and unnecessary ingredients go, she says. Tarla Dalal, one of India’s most successful cookery experts, echoes Nikita’s choice.  Light, clear varieties like the quintessential Lemon-Coriander soup are the healthiest”, she says. For her,   Soups are the best part of any meal !
Dalal also recommends cooking up your own versions by mish-mashing recipes. So get creative with chicken, mushroom, lemon, basil, lentil, garlic and lettuce… garnish the regular Talumein or Tomyum with your own additions and stew up your own unique consommé.

While you are at it, keep in mind that seasonal ingredients work the best with any preparation. “What is available at that time of the year makes for the best taste   says expert chef and restaurateur Moshe Shek.   The healthiest of soups are natural purees, like the ones we serve”, he adds. This means  no butter or cream, or white flour. His special recommendations include roasted corn soup with oregano and jalape±o for the monsoon and pea and fresh mint soup which is available round the year.

And if you thought soup-o-mania is a recent trend, let me tell you that the Greeks are believed to have sold soup as a fast-food on the street as early as 600 BC! The term   soup , however, came much later. People used to pour broth over a piece of bread in a bowl. That bread was known as sop, and thus   soup  was born.

Anyway, leave all the gyaan aside and relish your portion of this easy-to-cook appetizer which comes in an array of yummy forms. And, always follow celebrity chef and food writer Vikas Khanna’s tip:   Remember that a delicious and inspiring meal comes from a creative and adventurous mind!

Source: The Times Of India