When I was a little kid growing up in Mexico, we put Maggi on everything. We mixed up the savory liquid with chili and lime and drizzled it over carrots, added it to soups, tacos. It just made everything taste better. It wasn’t until I was older that I understood that the magic behind our beloved childhood seasoning was MSG.
Maggi, a soy sauce-like seasoning made out of vegetable protein, was invented in the 1800s in Switzerland. Although I associate it with Mexican food, it’s sold all over the world and people in Thailand, New Zealand, China and India all associate it with their cuisine.
What is it about this sauce that has made it such a ubiquitous seasoning? Umami, say the experts.
Food reporters have been salivating over the elusive umami taste lately. There was the article in the New York Times by Julia Moskin and recently an article in the Chicago Tribune by Stevenson Swanson. Umami has be heralded as the “fifth” taste, a protein-rich sensation that adds a certain flavor to foods. You can find umami in cheeses, roasted meats, chicken broth and mushrooms. It’s that savory, unctuous taste that you can’t quite describe. In other words, it’s Maggi.
MSG, by the way, has received so much bad press that people go out of their way to avoid it. It was linked to headaches for a long time, but I like the way the Chicago Tribune article put it: everything in moderation. Too much sugar and you get diabetes, too much salt and you get high blood pressure. So it goes with MSG (umami).