Adventures in Gluten (and Sugar) Freedom from a southern blogger chick!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A question of Umami

(This is Golden Mountain Sauce. It is not gluten free. It says that on and also on the bottle. This is in no way an advertisement for this product. Nor am I dissing it.  Read on.)

Umami. The extra taste. The fifth taste -- Savoriness. You've seen the commercials on The Food Network. Ummmmmmmmmmm Umami (p.s. that is not a word on Words with Friends. I know that to be true.)

But for people who are gluten free, is it a problem?

It's incredible how this has come full circle this week for me. How it ended was dreadful, since I ended up being badly glutened. But it's really quite curious.

So here's what happened: Earlier in the week, my friend Julie Arens from Outback texted me and asked about the gluten-free status of a food additive called disodium inosinate I did what I always do -- I read what I could on the Internet. From what I could ascertain, this is an additive that combines itself with other additives to add taste to foods -- usually, according to Wikipedia, noodles, sauces, chips, etc. I didn't see anything listed in its material that indicated it was not gluten free, and I didn't have time to consult my favorite food scientist, Sara Boswell. As I read on, though I found it becomes the equivalent of UMAMI, that mysterious taste.

This category is analogous to sweeteners, but instead of the underlying molecules being chiefly glucose or sucrose, these umami sources are all rich in glutamate. In fact, chefs can often swap glutamate-heavy ingredients, e.g., swapping soy sauce with fish sauce -- because the underlying chemistry is similar.

So it is also a glutemate -- like monosodium glutemate. And now I understand why the home office was concerned -- Glute- is the root for GluteN. But they're not related at all. (I think that would pass for food science 101...I'm hoping.)

OK. Fast forward a couple of days...I am talking to some friends on Twitter about Thai Food. Now, I am a huge fan of Thai Food -- but I eat it out of my house very carefully. I always ask VERY SPECIFICALLY about the inclusion of soy sauce of any kind, or of added flour. My local Thai place has been really patient and wonderful, as has a restaurant I favor near my Dad's house in Atlanta. But I almost always have a Thai Curry -- usually Masaman, which has little more than curry, coconut milk, and fish sauce (which is gluten free).

So I'm raving to my friends and suggesting menu items, and I say, "Ask carefully about this, though. Eating out is Risky."

Ah, the mantra of the celiac -- Eating Out is Risky.

So when Mags called today and asked me to lunch at our Thai Place, I went with happiness. And when I saw they'd added Spicy Eggplant to the menu, I was THRILLED. I asked for it with pork, and once again, I asked, "No soy sauce or flour, right?" My sweet server, who works with me every time, said, "No, no. Just Golden Mountain, and it has no soy sauce in it."

FLASHBACK: Two times earlier, when I ordered their DUI Noodles (Rice Noodles, veggies, spicy, added some beef) she said there was no soy sauce or flour, just FISH sauce and Golden Mountain. But she said it had no soy sauce or wheat.

OK....following me? Can you see where this is going to be a freakin train wreck in a minute?

Yep. I ate the succulent dish -- ohhh, it was so wonderful! The eggplant melted in my mouth, and the pork was so moist...

And then it hit. About 10 minutes later, I felt "the rumble." And if you're gluten free, you know what happened next.

So I asked her (when I came back 10 minutes later) are you sure there's no soy sauce in this. She said, Golden Mountain. Told you last time, no soy sauce. So I asked to see the bottle.

She brought it out hidden in her apron, like it was some huge secret. And there it was on the label: wheat starch.

I showed her, the chef came out and apologized, we agreed how to avoid this in the future, etc. I paid, left, and began my afternoon of post-glutening hell....which is continuing as I write this.

So I decided to check out Golden Mountain Sauce

Turns out, it's consider the "Thai Secret Sauce" in the United States -- if you eat at Thai Restaurants and are gluten-free, you might have had this without knowing it. According to the chef today, they add "A little bit here and there" to spice up. It is a traditional Thai brown sauce ingredient. That is the major kind in the states up top -- if you see that bottle, say no. OH, and another funny fact -- it's a "secret sauce ingredient" in the states, but not in Thailand. Everyone uses it there.

Now, there are brands that are organic and natural and have no wheat in it (totally GREEN bottle) -- but I suspect many use that bottle up there at the top. If you eat Thai food, before you place your order, ask about the Golden Moutain Sauce, ok?

Now, let's bring this full circle. Guess what is one of the ingredients in Golden Mountain Sauce, beside soy and wheat? Yep. Disodium inosinate. It's also in Maggi sauce seasoning (NOT GLUTEN FREE), and in other sauces. It's an additive that, with certain other flavors, adds savor -- the Umami.

So, in answer to your question Julie. Yes, Disodium Inosinate is gluten free if it stands alone. It only makes trouble when friends begin to gather!

Meanwhile, the after effects continue. Bleah, blech!

Much love, and be careful now when you Thai one on...


1 comment:

Emily said...

Hi, thanks for posting this.

One time at a Thai restaurant, they assured the dishes didn't have soy sauce, but they volunteered that they DID have "mushroom sauce." When they brought the bottle out, it was right there in the ingredients--wheat.

So I always ask what is in the sauce, not just "no soy sauce." Once they know me, and I've asked previously, we just agree, "no soy sauce." Once we've established this rapport, I've had very good luck at places.

p.s. NEVER get fried spring or egg rolls!! Even though they may be rice paper, they are often sealed with a wheat flour/water paste.