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Ask Carb Diva: Questions & Answers About Food, Recipes, & Cooking, #149

Updated on August 9, 2020
Carb Diva profile image

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

Lot's of Great Stuff

I had a lengthy introduction planned for today's article, but goodness gracious the questions were so good, and the answers so stunningly brilliant (and lengthy, of course), that there's no time to spare. Let's get right to it.

If you're an old friend, you already know how this works. But, if this is your first visit, let me introduce you to my kitchen.

Each week I receive questions about food ingredients, cooking or baking terms or methods, requests for recipes, and queries about nutrition. Just about anything food-related has been covered here.

I'm sharing this past week's questions and my responses; it happens every Monday. Want to join in the fun? You can leave your question in the comments below, and next week the answer will be right here. It's that easy.

Talk To Me About MSG

A few weeks ago I was asked about gluten-free diets; it seems that so many people have hopped on that bandwagon. Is it really necessary? Is gluten bad for you? My answer filled an entire article, but the short answers were "Certainly not" and "No, it isn't." Well, that prompted this question from Eric:

"But this reminds me to ask about MSG. I reckon the same as along these lines."

Dear friends, MSG (monosodium glutamate) is a flavor enhancer commonly added to Chinese food, but what exactly is it? Let's hop in the way-back machine and visit Tokyo Imperial University in 1907. That is where Kikunae Ikeda, a Japanese chemist, was having dinner with his family. His daily bowl of dashi soup was somehow not the usual; this particular bowl was more savory. Being a scientist, he was compelled to discover what made this dashi different from all of the rest. (Trust me, all scientists are like this. My husband is a scientist—it’s in their DNA.)

Ikeda poked into the bowl with his chopsticks, slowly stirring and peering into the broth. The cook had added kombu. With that ah-ha moment, Ikeda took to his laboratory to gain a better understanding of that deliciousness. (By the way, the Japanese word for “deliciousness” or “scrumptiousness” is umami).

Ikeda examined the components of that kombu at a molecular level and, in 1908, isolated the chemical compound that gives the world that savory sensation—glutamic acid, or glutamate.

There are two forms of glutamate. “Bound” glutamates are a part of the proteins in many of the foods we eat. These are digested and absorbed slowly. However, there are also “free” glutamates—these are food additives (monosodium glutamate or MSG), unattached to proteins. Unlike their bound cousins, they are digested quickly and some people believe they are a source of negative reactions.

A sampling of Chinese foods
A sampling of Chinese foods | Source

Now Let's Leap Forward Six Decades

In 1968, the New England Journal of Medicine published a letter from a doctor who complained of flushing, headaches, and heart palpitations. He suspected that one of these three foods in his diet was the culprit—wine, excess salt, or MSG. Reader responses poured in by the thousands damning the MSG, and the expression "Chinese restaurant syndrome” was born.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified MSG as a food ingredient that's "generally recognized as safe," but its use remains controversial. Dr. Alan Levinovitz (the man who provided my information on gluten) told this story in an article he wrote for New Scientist:

"While living in China from 2003 to 2005, I often served as the designated translator for fellow expatriates. Whenever we ate out, this involved asking our server which menu items contained monosodium glutamate (MSG). Invariably I was told that almost everything is made with weijing (“flavour essence”), including, on one occasion, the roast peanut appetiser my MSG-sensitive friends were snacking on as I made my enquiry.

After observing that no one reacted to the peanuts, I was inspired to conduct a simple (and admittedly unethical) experiment. One evening, instead of translating honestly, I told my companions at a large banquet that the kitchen had promised to avoid using MSG. Everyone thanked me and happily ate their meal, dish after poisoned dish.

An hour later? Two hours later? The next day? Nothing.

I repeated this experiment on multiple occasions, always with the same result. And yet foreigners living in China routinely complained of reactions to their food that included headaches, chest pain and shortness of breath. Was there something about my presence that conferred temporary resistance to MSG? Or could it be that MSG sensitivity was only in their heads?"

While Levinovitz’s deception was a horrible thing to do to his friends, it did reveal the truth about what we might term the “circumstantial evidence” of the epidemic known as Chinese restaurant syndrome.

Sometimes the head overrules the heart, or in this case, actual science. Yes, there are still those who testify on their grandmother’s grave that MSG attacks them every time they ingest it. However, many, many, many studies later, toxicologists have determined that MSG is harmless. The real tragedy in all of this is not that MSG has been maligned, but that it has become a lazy, cheap, one-dimensional substitute for the nuanced flavorful cooking of Asia.

It is a bitter irony that in China of all places, where chefs have spent centuries developing the most sophisticated culinary techniques, this mass-produced white powder should have been given the name wei jing, "the essence of flavor."

— Fuchsia Dunlop, author of the Sichuan cookbook

Retro Recipe for Garlic Dip

"This question is nostalgic in nature. My mom was a very basic cook. There was nothing fancy about her dishes at all, but they sure did taste good when I was a kid. Anyway, she used to make a garlic dip with Philadelphia cream cheese, garlic, milk, and mayonnaise? Does that sound right to you? I'm not sure about the mayonnaise."

Bill, my mom was probably even more "basic" than yours. She never would have prepared a chip dip like that (we didn't entertain), but she did have all of the free recipe pamphlets that food manufacturers produced years ago. That is why your request sounded familiar to me—mom didn't make it, but even at that tender age, I loved looking through cookbooks and I know this one was stored way, way back in my memory. Here's what I found.

Why Does Game Meat Taste "Gamey"?

"What about the taste of gamey in game meats? I was thinking about how to prepare and cook such as Turkey or Deer of the wild game type. Hey fish too now that I think of it. Probably not really up your reader's alley. But maybe."

He's safe in our backyard
He's safe in our backyard | Source

Well, Eric thanks for another great question. I did not grow up in a hunting family; in fact, my dad never owned a gun or a fishing pole. My first experience with wild game was a gift of some venison and moose liver from my in-laws. Both were a real eye-opener for this little city-bred lass. Not bad, just different. If you've ever eaten wild game you'll immediately understand what I'm talking about.

So, what exactly is that taste, why do wild animals taste like that, and how can we "tame" that powerful taste?

Venison, cooked rare
Venison, cooked rare

I have many friends who, each autumn, go deer and elk hunting. The taste of their catch is rich, mature, deep and something crave-worthy . . . for them (but for me? not so much.)

The Flavor

What exactly is a "gamey" flavor? Many people describe it as an iron smell, mineral-like. Some describe liver in that way. (Blood has a distinct "minerally" smell to it.)

Let's dial the clock back a bit, to the late 18th century. Brillat-Savarin was by trade a lawyer and politician but his fame was from his epicurean skills. He authored several books on law and politics, but his claim to fame was his The Physiology of Taste. He promoted this treatment of wild game:

In the time of Brillat-Savarin, game was typically allowed to hang for days or weeks until it began to rot. This treatment was called mortification and had two purposes: it tenderized the meat, and further heightened its "wild" flavor.

— Harold McGee, "On Food and Cooking" Scribner, 1984 (p. 142)

Thank goodness we don't prescribe to that method anymore.

Why Does Wild Game Taste Different?

Eric, there are numerous reasons why wild meat tastes, well, wild. "You are what you eat" is a part of it. The beefsteak that you enjoy was raised on grain; animals in the wild have a significantly more varied diet.

  • The younger the animal, the less gamey it will taste (usually, but keep reading).
  • If game is not taken down quickly the animal will be able to run. That surging adrenaline and lactic acid in the muscles contribute to an "off" taste.
  • Use sharp clean knives.
  • Cool it as quickly as possible. In the winter this is not a problem, but if hunting in warm weather be prepared to field dress the animal (skin, quarter, and place on ice) within an hour.
  • That "gamey" taste is more apparent in the fat of the animal. Trim away excess fat, sinew, and silver skin.
  • Don't overcook it and use the proper cooking method. Rump and shoulder cuts need slow braising. Ribs respond best to roasting. Tender cuts/chops/steaks can be pan-fried, broiled, or grilled.

What About Fish?

Eric, you also mentioned fish. Fish don't actually taste "gamey" but some have a more pronounced flavor than others. White, flakey fish is usually the mildest (sole, flounder, tilapia). My experience is that darker-fleshed fish (salmon, tuna) or those with a higher oil content (sardines, anchovies, mackerel) taste more fishy.

But, good fish should never smell fishy. It should simply be clean-smelling. There is no way to redeem old or improperly-handled fish.

We're Organized

Did you know that there is a Table of Contents for this series? I have created an article that provides a detailed listing of each question I've received. It's broken down by category, and within each category, the questions are listed alphabetically. Each question is actually a hotlink back to the original post.

Here's a link to that Table of Contents.

I have also cataloged all of my personal recipes that I have shared with you in this weekly Q&A series and in all of my other articles as well. The link to that Index is here. There are hotlinks to each recipe and this will be updated as new recipes are shared.

Manatita challenged me to show a kitty with a protective mask.
Manatita challenged me to show a kitty with a protective mask. | Source

Let's do this again next week. If you have questions about foods, cooking techniques, or nutrition you can ask them here. If you are in search of an old recipe or need ideas on how to improve an existing one I can help you. If you want to learn more, let's do it together. Present your questions, your ideas, your comments below. Or, you can write to me personally at this email address: lindalum52@gmail.com.

And, I promise that there will always be at least one photo of a kitty in every Monday post.

© 2020 Linda Lum

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    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      10 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      It was a dessert! Our lemon tree is sagging with the weight of the lemons on it, so it was a lemon curd Cheesecake.

      Though the Salmon one sounds interesting!

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      10 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Lawrence, was it a dessert cheesecake? The reason I ask is that over the years I have collected a number of savory cheesecake recipes. I've a smoked salmon one that makes me sigh just thinking about it.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      10 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Linda

      Last night was an awesome homemade Cheesecake, better than any store bought!

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      10 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Lawrence, thank you so much. Lucky you to have a daughter to take over the kitchen chores.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      10 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Linda

      A few of these recipes made me stop and think. Firstly I've never heard of Chinese Restaurant syndrome! though as a kid I did hear of a few unsavoury things that were supposed to happen in Chinese restaurants!

      As for 'gamey' meat, over here ALL beef is raised outside! (Pork not so much, but organic or free range pork and poultry is pretty much the same price as non-organic) and yes, there's a huge difference in taste!

      My daughter loves working in the Kitchen (she's claimed it!!) and makes an awesome dip using most of the ingredients you list but adding Sweet Thai Chilli sauce, its amazing!

      Great hub here.

      Lawrence

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image

      Denise McGill 

      11 months ago from Fresno CA

      I thought so too but Mom insisted that it made a difference in the gamey flavor! Enjoy!

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      11 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Denise I'm over-the-top excited to share. BTW the peppermint extract is areal surprise.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image

      Denise McGill 

      11 months ago from Fresno CA

      I just got finished speaking with my mom about her venison marinade. She said I was stretching her memory because she never wrote it down. Her method was basically opening the seasoning cupboard and pouring things into a bowl but together we pieced together a recipe. Feel free to share it next week with your readers.

      1/4 cup olive oil (she said other oils bring out the gamey flavor and you don't want that), 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar or apple cider vinegar, 1/4 cup Worchestershire sauce, 1/4 cup soy sauce, 2 tsp mustard powder, 2 tsp garlic powder, 2 tsp onion powder or minced onion, 1 tsp oregano, 1 tsp cumin, 1/4 tsp peppermint extract, 1/2 lemon, squeezed, and salt and pepper to taste. Marinade the venison steak at least 2 hours or preferably overnight in the fridge. I hope that helps your peeps.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      11 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Abby, and even if we don't have allergies, what we eat can impact the way that we feel. Fueling your body is important. Thank you for stopping by.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 

      11 months ago from Brazil

      Hi Linda,

      That is interesting about the MSG. On the same thread of Asian Cooking, I have a bottle of soy sauce that has two holes in the lid. After shooting a goodly amount down the back of my cooker, I Googled why it had two holes. Lo and behold I should have used my finger over one hole to control the flow out the other.

      Which leads me to my question. Have you got any food packaging or products that you've thought 'Wow, that's a great idea!'. Or, like myself, couldn't figure out its intended use.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      11 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Wow, Denise, what a story. I'll bet that my readers would enjoy learning how your mom marinated the venison. If it's not too much trouble.

    • Abby Slutsky profile image

      Abby Slutsky 

      11 months ago from America

      This was an excellent topic. I think there are so many dietary restrictions and allergies related to food that can be addressed.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image

      Denise McGill 

      11 months ago from Fresno CA

      My dad was a hunter. He went on camping/hunting trips every September when deer season opened and usually brought back one or two. We were to "use" it all. He hated waste. As a matter of fact, my first purse as a teenager, I made myself from the scraps of deer hide after Mom made a suede jacket for Dad. That said, my mother had a way of marinating the venison in a mixture of Worcestershire sauce and garlic that really cut that gamey taste. (If anyone is interested, I think I can ask her if she still has the recipe for that marinade.) She also would take the gamier cuts and grind them into sausage with lots of seasonings that actually tasted pretty good. We used it all before the next September when Dad headed back into the mountains for another hunting trip. The suede deer hide was soft as butter and growing up I had a kids idea that he was shooting Bambi. But when I went on one of these trips and saw a deer he just brought back from the woods, it was covered in fleas and ticks. An awful sight, I can tell you. I never prefered the venison over beef or chicken and now I don't eat either. I don't think I'm missing anything.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      11 months ago from SW England

      That's fine. No rush. By all means send an email but I always read your Monday cooking slots anyway. Thank you, Linda!

      Ann

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      11 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Ann, this will be fun. I enjoy my research for these Q&A's, but my first love is helping people with recipes. It might take a couple of weeks, so please don't give up on me. I will send you an email to let you know when you can expect it.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      11 months ago from SW England

      By all means, let's have some suggestions regarding salmon. I usually just simmer it in liquid and eat it plain, maybe with a little tartare sauce, or with butter on. I also do it in foil pockets, with oil and lemon to moisten it plus a little pepper. I have a sauce recipe to go with salmon but don't use it often.

      I keep wanting to buy a whole salmon and wonder what is the best way to cook that - maybe you could include that angle too? Thanks.

      BTW, I do eat chicken, just not ours!! As I said, I'm a hypocrite.

      Ann

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      11 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Good morning Shauna. I agree with you. If I had to rely on my own skills (and heart) to gather meat for my family, we'd be eating beans every day. Just can't go there.

      As for the kitty faces, I spent an hour just a few days ago creating a fold specifically for this column and it's nothing but kitties. Yes, a new kitty face next week. Take care sis.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      11 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Bill, I was thrilled to find that recipe for you. Glad to help. As for being forgetful, that's the story of my lie anymore it seems. I know it will come back to you. You have my number, right? You can always send me a text.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      11 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Thank you Pamela. There was (it's gone now) a market not too far from our house that sold rabbit. Yes, it looks like chicken and I've been told it tastes like chicken too, but my heart just can't go there.

      Thank you for your kind words. I hope you have a wonderful week. Stay safe my friend.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      11 months ago from Washington State, USA

      That masked cat is adorable (but I can't take credit). There could be nothing "gamier" than the guinea pig you encountered last year.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      11 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Eric, I'll work on hasenpfeffer, but how can you eat Thumper? You are most welcome, and check back tomorrow for another one that should be right up your alley.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      11 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Good morning Ann. I really like seafood, and live on the coast so I know what we get is fresh, but my daughter is not a fan, so we mostly eat chicken (I'm sorry), ground turkey (in lieu of ground beef), and vegetarian (soy, beans, lentils, etc.). If you would like I could try to gather up some imaginative ways of fixing salmon.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      11 months ago from Washington State, USA

      John, that's a new one for me. I never thought of eating kangaroo (and don't think I could. They're just so darned cute). The most "exotic" meat I've ever had is gator. I was a little too tough and stringy for my taste (it was 'gator-on-a-stick' at the County fair).

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      11 months ago from Central Florida

      And here all this time I thought MSG is bad for us! Many years ago I used it as a meat tenderizer, than stopped using it once I heard it's a chemical. I guess that was a vicious rumor, huh Linda?

      I don't like the taste of game, either. Like you, I wasn't raised in a hunting family. However, my son's father was (born and raised in Montana). To me, Bambi and her cousins aren't meant to be eaten by man, not modern man, anyway. After reading your rather descriptive instructions on how to tone down the gamey flavor, I'm even more convinced to avoid game.

      Now that you've succumbed to manatita's challenge, can next week's kitty show her pretty face?

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      11 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Fantastic! Mystery solved. Thank you my friend. I had another question for you, which I thought of yesterday, but then I promptly forgot it. I'll get back to you.

      Happy Monday! Stay cool today!

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      11 months ago from Sunny Florida

      You answered som excellent questions today in your 'stunningly brilliant' manner! I am glad to know about MSG as I stil thought it was to be avoided.

      My grandfather use to cook rabbit in a variety of ways, and we all loved it. My father was not a hunter so that was my only young experience with game. My husband hunted deer a few years ago, and I liked venison also. This is a very good article, Linda.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      11 months ago from USA

      You have my mind racing with visions of gamey meat. Oh my goodness. I like the masked cat.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      11 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Hasenpfeffer? Need I add to that question? Lol.

      That explanation of MSG is really eye opening. That Dr. experiment is great. My sister in law sells MSG in an Asian country. And boy does she sell a lot it.

      My understanding is that most "meat" should be mortified at least 12 days, but it is too expensive to hang.

      I am doing that dip. Yummy in my tummy.

      Thanks for your answers.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      11 months ago from SW England

      Linda, you excel yourself with all this information regarding various additives and flavourings. It's such an entertaining and informative read.

      I would've been really cross with the man who lied to see what happened - what on earth would he have done had they been ill?!

      I must admit I love venison but we rarely eat it (and definitely don't eat it rare!) It is rich and tasty. Having said that, we don't eat much meat at all. Fish, yes, especially salmon and mackerel. Fresh fish is wonderful, but I find fishing boring and I must confess that I don't like the idea of huge hooks ripping their mouths - what a hypocrite I am! As you know, we have chickens but I'm certainly not going to eat those; they are our friends and give us eggs, full stop.

      I digress! Thanks again for a great Monday post. Love the kitty pic and the caption with it.

      Keep safe and well, Linda!

      Ann

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      11 months ago from Gondwana Land

      Great questions to be sure, Linda. I was interested to hear that MSG is apparently harmless. I don’t mind “game” meat now and again, but I don’t think I could eat it regularly. I have had venison and kangaroo mainly in that category. Kangaroo is not bad and has a very low fat content. You can buy kangaroo steaks, sausages and mince in Supermarkets here.

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