Veganism is often viewed as the ultimate sacrifice. It’s easy to only eat the 10s – tender steaks, slow simmering broths and buttercream frosting. But suddenly, you see a ceiling of 7s above your head. Lentil salad is delicious, but what about a thick, creamy lasagna?
As a teenager, I discovered a world of vegan food that was completely new to me. Bright eyes and a great deal of optimism, I was determined to make a difference in reducing my carbon footprint. Living in Melbourne, Australia over the past decade made it difficult for vegan options to be found in restaurants. Also, cut-off ingredients such as fake meat were not a good way to scam people. However, with the right ingredients – vital Wheat Gluten, legumes, nutritional yeast and labor-intensive cookery, I discovered I could create complex, umami rich meals and something completely different to the traditional, green-heavy veganism.
Then, I graduated from school and began working full-time. Plant-based food was my new favorite thing. I began to rely more on take-outs and irregular eating after I only had cooked once. It became a daily chore to cook during the week. I couldn’t find the gum to prepare meals, and my order was rejected. I needed an intervention. A shorthand that could be used consistently and quickly! Transforms my 7s into 10s
MSG stands for monosodium glucamate, and it was perfect to me. I was aware of the ingredient since childhood, thanks to racist rhetoric. “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome”The now common “disease”MSG was popular in the 1990s and 2000s, which is why some people feel differently about how MSG made them feel. MSG is a staple food in many Asian homes since its commercial release in early 1900s. Glutamate, a naturally occurring compound, is present in the body. It is also found in many of the foods we eat daily. Glutamate is what gives parmesan and soya sauce their strong umami taste. The Tokyo University professor developed it when it was launched in Japan. Kikunae IkedaHe also invented the term umami. Originally, MSG was extracted form seaweed. Now, it is made by fermenting sugar cane, beetroot or molasses in a similar process to making yogurt and vinegar.
MSG was a word I heard a lot about because of the noise around me at the time. An adorable panda-shaped jar containing MSG crystals was found at my Asian grocer. I decided that, given my obsession with chilli oils, I would just try it in my kitchen.
It made a huge difference. After heating my frozen dal, I added a few drops of MSG to give it a mouth-watering flavor. Next, I added a few large pinches of MSG to my meal. It was delicious and would bring flavor to basic dishes. Minestrone got the umami flavors it used to absorb from bacon and parmesan peel. The addition of spinach or withered kale was a great topping to toast or plain white rice. It was easy to make scrambled eggs tofu without adding nutritional yeast or caramelizing onion for hours. My experiments MSG is best used in a salty way. I added a little bit to each dish until it was a round, grumpy taste.
My quickest meals suddenly had the same meaty depth as my previous ones and I was spending less in boutiques. Instead of spending money on vegan frills that claim to replicate the glutamate in meat and animal products I could simply go to the source to give canned beans or plain tofu the same umami love. MSG did more than speed up my cooking. It also made my food taste better and helped me eat healthier. Steve WhitherlyOne possibility is that the ingredient could have unexpected benefits.
Although I am no longer vegan, I do still use MSG to cook vegetables. Plant-based cooking allows you to experiment with products, such as the sweet potatoes and silver beets of the world. These are products that I used to find boring or uncomfortable. I have seasoned them with salt and pepper as usual, along with my trusty panda shaker of MSG. Savoy cabbage can be as big as a 10, who would have thought?
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