Japanese cuisine relies heavily on kombu, a dried kelp seaweed which, when boiled into a broth called dashi, creates a powerful flavor called umami. The compound that makes dashi taste so good was found to be Monosodium Glutamate or MSG. But kombu is rich in minerals and does not have the toxic side effects of MSG.
Kombu, the “King of Seaweeds”, is the bedrock of Japanese cuisine. Kombu is a kind of algae found in sea. It has been used a base for broth (‘dashi‘) in Asia for centuries, as a savory garnish for rice and other dishes, as a vegetable, and a primary ingredient in popular snacks. Kombu is usually sold dried, in strips, or sheets. It is dark green, almost black in color. Transparent sheets of kombu are used as an edible decorative wrapping for rice and other foods.
Making kombu stock or dashi: A piece of kombu is wiped clean and added to boiling water and allowed to steep for about 10 minutes and removed when it becomes flexible. It is then cut into strips and added to salads, stews and soups. It can not only expedite the cooking process, but also tenderize meat.
Kombu leaves, sushi, and Kombu soup; Source
Kombu is often called “natural MSG.” It is also used medicinally in Japan, Korea and China.
In 1908, Professor Kidunae Ikeda explained that the Umami taste, the Japanese word used for one of the five basic tastes in addition to salty, sweet, sour, and bitter was due to the glutamic acid present in kombu.
Like kombu, several food items like ripe tomatoes, mushrooms and breast milk naturally contain glutamic acid or glutamates.
It is widely accepted that the commercially available MSG is an excitotoxin that affects the hypothalamus area of the brain that controls hormones, sleep patterns, moods and emotions, and appetite. Excess MSG can cause neurological disorders such as memory loss, confusion, learning problems, Alzheimers, fertility problems and Parkinson’s.
Dr. Russell Blaylock, the neurosurgeon and author of a book on MSG titled Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills explains that MSG is manufactured by isolating and concentrating the free form glutamate amino acid and it acts as a toxin, causing the brain cells to fire rapidly and die.
Monosodium Glutamate is in practically all packaged foods, fast foods, restaurant foods, snack foods, sauces, dressings, diet foods, even health foods.
How Does MSG Differ From Kombu?
The question many have is if Kombu, like MSG, contains glutamates, is it just as harmful?
Thankfully, the answer is ‘NO’. Kombu has many benefits for the human body:
- Kombu is not merely a flavor enhancer; it has valuable nutrients and minerals like iodine, copper, selenium, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, calcium and vitamins A and C.
- Kombu helps to digest beans. It contains enzymes that help to break down the gas-forming sugars in beans.
- Kombu is known to reduce cholesterol and hypertension.
- Kombu is low on calories and with is recommended for low-calorie diet for weight loss. In 2010, a group of researchers in the University of Newcastle found that a fibrous material called alginate in sea kelp could fight fat absorption and prevent obesity.
- Kombu has fiber to help you fight constipation.
- Kombu seaweed has anti-inflammatory properties. These protect the immune system and help fight against fatal diseases such as cancer.
MSG is synthetically made glutamate, which is different in structure and function from that found naturally in foods, such as kombu.
Monosodium glutamate/bound glutamic acid occurs naturally in many fruits and vegetables as a part of protein along with other amino acids. Only a fraction of the glutamate in foods is in its “free” form in foods such as cheese, ripe tomatoes, fermented soy products, yeast extracts, certain sharp cheeses, which accounts for their distinctive and enjoyable flavors.
MSG is created artificially using processes that break down and change natural-bound glutamate into free forms of glutamate. It contains over 99.6% of the L-glutamate “free” form, which is far higher than free glutamate ions found in naturally-occurring foods. These free glutamates can sometimes enter the bloodstream up to 10 times faster than bound glutamates that are released slowly during digestion.
There are glutamate receptors in many parts of the body, including the brain, heart, lungs and the pancreas, where glutamate is a neurotransmitter. Consuming large amounts of MSG can “overwhelm” glutamate receptors in the body, overstimulate the neurons and elevate unnaturally the free glutamate levels in the body. How this affects the body can be found here: The Effect of Monosodium Glutamate on Your Health