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Umami Tastes Like… Grilled Cheese!

By April 20, 2016February 26th, 2022MSG, Savory Cuisine Corner
Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Happy Grilled Cheese Month!

In her recent blog, registered dietitian Regan Jones, co-founder of the popular “Healthy Aperture” food blog photo-sharing site, helps us understand why grilled cheese is so good. Here’s what she says:

“The humble grilled cheese is one of those foods that we cherish as a child, but never really think about “why” it has so much control over our taste buds. I recently learned that the pull of that savory pile of cheese and toasted bread may have more to do with science than you ever imagined. It’s because of the 5th flavor, umami, and specifically an amino acid (glutamate) which tickles our taste buds into experiencing the unique flavor. In fact, we’re born with specific receptors on our tongue for umami with glutamate being the main trigger for the receptors.

“It’s hard to put into words what umami tastes like, but if you think about the flavor of a warm aged cheese (like that of a good grilled cheese), you’ll quickly salivate your way to understanding umami.

“But as you may expect, grilled cheese doesn’t have the market cornered on umami. In fact, many foods that are aged, ripened or fermented are also great sources — think Parmesan cheese, vine-ripened tomato, sauteed mushrooms, soy sauce and one that may surprise you, MSG.”

Regarding MSG (monosodium glutamate, aka “umami seasoning”), Ms. Jones discusses the safety and food chemistry aspects, which are widely misunderstood, noting “monosodium glutamate is the salt form of the amino acid glutamate, even though we tend to treat it as an obscure scary chemical in food.”

For individuals who have concerns about MSG, Ms. Jones states:

“And I think we can all agree grilled cheese isn’t in need of any help from MSG or any other flavor enhancer. But I share this news with you about MSG to 1) maybe alleviate your fears if you occasionally see it in a favorite food (hello ranch dressing for my kids’ veggies) and it makes you uneasy or 2) have ever thought about ways to pump up the flavor in your recipes — especially veggie dishes that you’d like your family to eat more of — without adding a ton of salt. Ironically, although MSG is a “salt” of glutamate, it’s actually lower in sodium than table salt. So if used appropriately and in the right proportions to table salt (the chef I spoke with who uses it recommends a 2/3 salt to 1/3 MSG) you can achieve as much as a 25% overall reduction in your recipe.”


The MSGdish Team's goal is to provide timely and important information about glutamate, monosodium glutamate (MSG) and the many culinary creations inspired by “umami" while connecting these topics to facts about food, taste, and health. The MSGdish Team is comprised of TGA staff professionals who are recognized as experts in science-based nutrition communications. Read more on the About page.

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