My Acid Addiction

Photo by wonderferret via Flickr

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.

Photo by Laura Dahl via Flickr


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.




16 Responses to “My Acid Addiction”

  1. Napin Karnchanachari says:

    Thanks Mitchell! Hahaha I love the pun, they’re my favourite kind of humour.

  2. Mitchell Hill says:

    The title really grabbed my attention! I thought it was very well written with a good serving (mind the pun) of science that was clear , yet not too simple.

  3. Napin Karnchanachari says:

    Thank you 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  4. Oraya Sutabutr says:

    Very interesting take on taste buds! Love the phrase “acid addiction” 🙂

  5. Napin Karnchanachari says:

    thank you! I hope they are 🙂

  6. Napin Karnchanachari says:

    thank you very much!

  7. Yai ju says:

    Excellent, Pinn.
    You got my attention. Very clever explanation of not so easy a subject.

  8. Tisanu Ratanarat says:

    I am glad you are on a niche career path. Your writing is thought-provoking. Your parents must be vwry proud

  9. Napin Karnchanachari says:

    Thanks Patrice! It’s great to hear that even a non-scientist found the subject of amino acids enjoyable 🙂 I would love to keep writing from here on out

  10. Patrice says:

    A lighthearted yet insightful read. You somehow turned a relatively tough subject into understandable bite-sized coherent points. From the perspective of who is not science oriented, this was a very enjoyable read. This article actually made me notice a lot of small things about my own eating habits, that I would otherwise take for granted. Keep writing, for non-science people like me.

  11. Napin Karnchanachari says:

    Thanks for your comment Kelley! Really happy to hear that you found it funny and informative 🙂 I was surprised myself when I first learnt about this “umami” flavour.

  12. Kelley Leech says:

    Love the title! Very funny! A really well constructed post, very informative and interesting. The subject matter is something I’ve never consciously thought about, but I know I’ve definitely craved that ‘umami’ flavour many times (though at these times I never knew what it was called!) I’ve definitely learned something new today!

  13. Napin Karnchanachari says:

    Thanks for your comment Casey! So glad to hear you found it interesting 🙂 umami is definitely a new up and coming flavor

  14. Casey says:

    Such an interesting post. I was intrigued by the title and had never heard of this acid, or even umami, before. Now I’ll know what to ask for what I get that inexplicable craving. I really liked how you made the scientific terms relatable to every day life using a narrative so I didn’t get lost in the technicalities.

  15. Napin Karnchanachari says:

    Thanks Lydia! An analogy is definitely a great idea, I’ll keep it in mind for my next blog 🙂

  16. Lydia Gandhi says:

    Great article Napin! I love the topic 🙂 I’ve never studied biology before so I struggled a bit with the jargon but it was super interesting to learn more about our brains. It’d be cool if you could use an analogy when talking about neurons and the frontal cortex to make it easier for us to understand. Also, your hook is incredible! It definitely caught my attention.