What is AJI-NO-MOTO® and How is it Made?
What is AJI-NO-MOTO®?
A popular seasoning and flavor enhancer, AJI-NO-MOTO®, an MSG (monosodium glutamate) product, is the purest form of umami, the fifth taste, altogether different from sweet, salty, sour and bitter. AJI-NO-MOTO® is widely used to intensify and enhance umami flavors in sauces, broths, soups and many more foods. It can also be considered a healthy alternative to table salt, containing just one-third the sodium. AJI-NO-MOTO® is used around the world to bring out the delicious flavor of foods.
What does AJI-NO-MOTO® taste like?
Umami and AJI-NO-MOTO® are two sides of the same coin: they both give us the same taste experience, both with glutamate. The glutamate in AJI-NO-MOTO® is chemically indistinguishable from the glutamate present in animal and plant proteins, and our bodies metabolize both sources of glutamate in the same way. Made from plants like corn, sugar cane and cassava, AJI-NO-MOTO® is not sweet, since the production process turns sugar into glutamic acid.
Think of salt and saltiness. Many foods taste salty, but a pinch of salt on your tongue gives you the purest taste of saltiness. AJI-NO-MOTO® itself does not have any taste but imparts the umami taste when added to food.
The Ajinomoto Group has produced the odorless white crystalline powder known as AJI-NO-MOTO® for over a century, and today it is found in kitchen cupboards worldwide.
What is AJI-NO-MOTO® made of?
AJI-NO-MOTO®, monosodium glutamate, is the sodium salt of glutamic acid, one of the most common naturally occurring amino acids. Glutamic acid is produced in abundance in our bodies and found in many foods we eat every day, including meat, fish, eggs and dairy products, as well as tomatoes, corn and nuts. The proteins that make up about 20% of our body weight are made up of amino acids such as glutamic acid. Glutamic acid constitutes about 2% of our human body weight. When a protein containing glutamic acid is broken down, for example through fermentation, it becomes glutamate. Glutamate activates our taste receptors, eliciting the delicious savory taste known as umami. AJI-NO-MOTO® doesn’t taste salty and salt is not used in making it. The sodium in AJI-NO-MOTO® is sodium glutamate and sodium ribonucleotide, not salt (NaCl).
How is AJI-NO-MOTO® made?
AJI-NO-MOTO® is produced through the fermentation of plant-based ingredients such as sugar cane, sugar beets, cassava or corn.
One evening over dinner in 1908, one of the Ajinomoto Group’s founders, biochemist Dr. Kikunae Ikeda asked his wife a question that would change the history of food: What gave her vegetable and tofu soup its delicious meaty flavor? Mrs. Ikeda pointed to the dried seaweed called kombu, or kelp, that she used to make her traditional Japanese dashi, or broth. Inspired by this revelation, Dr. Ikeda set to work. Evaporating and treating his wife’s kombu broth, he was able to extract a crystalline compound, which turned out to be glutamic acid. Tasting the crystals, he recognized a distinct savory flavor he dubbed umami, based on the Japanese word umai (delicious). Dr. Ikeda filed a patent in 1909 to produce the world’s first umami seasoning: AJI-NO-MOTO®. The following year, the Ajinomoto Group AJI-NO-MOTO® was launched in the Japanese market. At first it was produced through the hydrolysis of gluten to extract wheat protein. Then in the 1930s there was a shift to extracting AJI-NO-MOTO® from soy beans. In the 1960s production moved to the bacterial fermentation of sugar cane and similar crops in a process much like the way cheese, yogurt and wine are produced.
How does the fermentation process work?
Fermentation has been used by humans for centuries as a way to preserve foods and enhance their taste. Fermentation is used to make foods including grains, legumes and vegetables easier to digest and to preserve them. It’s also used to make bread, sauerkraut, kimchi, natto, and soy sauce, and of course beer and wine.
AJI-NO-MOTO® is made of naturally occurring substances through a modern version of that process, with the help of microbes that transform feedstocks like sugarcane into food products. First the sugarcane is extracted as glucose and sent to a fermentation tank, to which fermentative microbes are then added. These microbes consume the glucose, releasing glutamic acid, which though neutralization is turned into a solution. This solution is then decolorized and filtered for purity. This pure solution is crystallized using an evaporator and the crystals dried to produce the final product—AJI-NO-MOTO®. The entire process has a very small environmental footprint, as its coproducts can be returned to the soil in the form of fertilizer to help grow more crops like sugarcane, forming a virtuous cycle.
The origins of the Ajinomoto Group are expressed by the ideal: “Eat Well, Live Well.” And the origins of the Group’s namesake product AJI-NO-MOTO® emerged from Dr. Ikeda’s desire to improve the nutrition and welfare of the Japanese people. That desire has since been shared and internationalized, as AJI-NO-MOTO® continues to enhance favorite foods around the world.
Is AJI-NO-MOTO® safe?
The safety of MSG (monosodium glutamate), the main ingredient of AJI-NO-MOTO®, has been affirmed by the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) and the American Chemical Society (ACS).
How to use AJI-NO-MOTO®?
AJI-NO-MOTO® can be used in everyday cooking to easily enhance umami taste.