My Acid Addiction
I have an acid addiction but so do you, we all do. Before you freak out, I don’t mean that acid, I’m talking about glutamic acid, an amino acid that occurs naturally in food.
After a long hard day of studying, I begin to crave acid, which of course, I mean glutamic acid. While pondering what food I could eat to satisfy my craving, I come up with the fail-safe combo of a ham, cheese and tomato sandwich. I devour my sandwich in seconds, happy and satisfied.
But have you ever wondered why a simple ham, cheese and tomato sandwich hits the spot every single time? We have glutamic acid to thank for that.
Deceived by the sandwich
Ham, cheese and tomatoes all score very high on the glutamic acid scale. Without conscious thought, humans have created recipes that naturally gravitated towards an increase in glutamic acid concentration. Take pizza and hamburgers for example, they all contain the magic three combo of cured meat, cheese and tomatoes. This begs the question of, what exactly does glutamic acid do to make us so addicted to it?
Glutamic acid doesn’t work alone but instead, it has a couple of sidekicks. In 1913, a Japanese scientist by the name of Akira Kuninaka discovered that glutamic acid works with other compounds called nucleotides, which are found naturally in food.
Here comes the deception, glutamic acid and its troop of side kicks binds to the taste receptors on our tongue to enhance our sense of smell and taste. The receptors transport information to our brain, exciting the neurons in our brain that are correlated with pleasure. The pleasure we go back time and time again for.
Mother knows breast
You thought your acid addiction only began when you grew up? Think again.
Even before birth, we were exposed to glutamic acid as it is present in the amniotic fluid, the fluid that surrounds babies. After birth, our addiction is fed through breast milk, which contains high levels of glutamic acid.
Not only are there glutamic acid receptors on our tongue, there are also receptors in our stomach that detect glutamic acid and sends this information to the brain. The brain knows glutamic acid is an important amino acid and orders the stomach to march forth, digest and absorb the nutrients. Glutamic acid is in essence, an indicator that protein has been consumed.
Protein is vital to our survival and the associated pleasurable feelings we experience when we eat glutamic acid could be attributed to the fact that, well, our bodies know that we’ve eaten protein so we probably won’t die just yet.
We enjoy the taste of acid?
Imagine trying to explain to someone that you’re craving a certain combination of glutamic acid and nucleotides. Surely, they would look at you, shake their heads, whisper, “poor thing” under their breath before walking away. Don’t want to be the weirdo in this scenario? Don’t fear, in 1908, a Japanese scientist, Kikunae Ikeda named this particular taste resulting from glutamic acid and nucleotides, “umami”.
In recent years, we have seen a huge surge in the use of the term “umami”; dubbed as “the fifth taste”. Umami has been eloquently described as a savoury flavour that is intense yet round. So the next time you have a craving for glutamic acid and nucleotides, ask for something umami or perhaps ask for an intense yet round savoury flavour.