MSG is an ingredient that has come under a lot of backlash recently due to its possible health impacts. MSG is otherwise known as monosodium glutamate and can be used to heighten the flavor and enjoyability of almost any dish. Depending on what food item you are purchasing, you may even be eating MSG without even knowing it! People still want to find a good substitute that allows them to boost flavor, without compromising health.
Throughout the years, many great MSG substitutes have been made widely available to the general public. Additionally, many people also have some homemade substitutions which they stand by. Some of the best MSG substitutes are:
- Soy Sauce
- Beef Broth
- Chicken Broth
- Nutritional Yeast
- Coconut Aminos
What Is MSG?
As mentioned, MSG is also known as monosodium glutamate and it is a specially formed salt from glutamic acid. It has 0 calories, and it greatly enhances the flavor of whatever food you put it in. It usually comes in a white-powdered form, making it very easy to put into dishes.
For these reasons, MSG has become one of the most common ingredients in processed foods, and you can find it in a range of things from cookies to noodles!
What Does MSG Taste Like?
Because it is in so many different and diverse foods, people often wonder what MSG tastes like.
According to most people, MSG has a salty taste, with subtle notes of umami. If you are confused about what “umami” is, it is commonly described as a nutty/meaty flavor that can be found in foods like cheese and mushrooms.
In addition to the basic salty/umami flavor described, people also claim that MSG makes the flavors in an existing dish stand out. In other words, it improves and strengthens the flavors of other food.
Why You Should Substitute MSG
As mentioned, some people fear that MSG can have negative health benefits. According to very early studies, MSG was possibly linked to many things such as
- Weight gain
- Muscle pain
Although these studies didn’t have great sample sizes or much scientific backing, there were still people that claimed to have felt negative effects from MSG. For this reason, you may want to make the switch to a more healthy substitute.
One last reason why people may want to switch from MSG is that it is a highly-processed ingredient. With the push for more natural and holistic ingredients, it only makes sense to switch to something more simple and organic!
1. Soy Sauce
Soy sauce is a great MSG substitute that you may have in your refrigerator right now. Soy sauce is a fermented sauce that is created with salt and some sort of soy/wheat product.
It is traditionally used in a variety of Asian dishes, and it is characterized by having a strong, bold, bitter, and even meaty flavor. Some people could also describe it as having some umami qualities, which does make it very similar to MSG.
Aside from its similarities to MSG in flavor, soy sauce is great because it is widely available and easy to add to things, however, it can be pretty high in sodium if you are looking to cut that out of your diet.
Similar to soy sauce, salt is another great MSG substitute that is widely found in people’s homes. Even if you don’t have salt on hand, it is very cheap in stores, and can even come iodized for an added boost of nutrition.
Salt has a characteristic mineral taste that has some bitter/”salty” notes. Although it can boost the flavor of your food, it doesn’t necessarily come with the umami flavor that MSG does.
If you are looking to find an MSG substitute for health reasons, salt may not be the best option, as it can quickly raise your sodium levels more than you would like.
For all of these reasons, salt is a great MSG substitute in a pinch, or if you are using it in moderation!
3. Beef Broth
Another great substitute for MSG is beef broth. It is relatively cheap, it has some good health benefits, and usually, it has a little less sodium than salt or soy sauce.
One great thing about beef broth is that it can be found in a multitude of different forms. Some common ways you can get beef broth include:
- Canned broth
- Homemade broth
- Condensed broth paste
- Beef bouillon cubes
Some people have reservations about using animal products or even using cow products in general, however, if you don’t have these reservations, beef may be a great option for you.
4. Chicken Broth
Just like beef broth, chicken broth is another great option to add flavor to your meals. Because it is a meat product, it adds the perfect amount of salt and umami that you can find in things like MSG.
Chicken broth can come in all the same forms as beef broth, and in most cases, it is usually cheaper as well!
Chicken broth is also great if you are looking to cut out unneeded sodium, as it comes in many low-sodium forms, and has slightly less fat than beef broth.
5. Vegetable Broth
If you want the flavor profile and heartiness of a broth, without the fact of it coming from a meat product, vegetable broth may be the option for you.
Just like the meat broths, there are many different forms of vegetable broth that you can find in stores. One great thing is that you can easily make vegetable broth at home from food scraps. When you make broth at home, you can control what ingredient you put in, which affects flavor profiles!
Vegetable broth is also very healthy, and usually contains less fat and sodium than both chicken and beef broths!
6. Nutritional Yeast
Probably one of the best options on this list in terms of health, nutritional yeast can easily take the place of MSG in most of your dishes. Nutritional yeast is a form of deactivated yeast that often occurs in the formation of regular bread yeast.
This yeast comes in the form of semi-small yellow flakes that can be added to any dish. It has a very cheesy/umami flavor that is similar to MSG but is a little milder.
Nutritional yeast is an excellent option if you are looking to be healthier, as it has far less sodium and is packed with great vitamins, proteins, and nutrients!
Although many people don’t like the taste of them, mushrooms are another great option to replace MSG. Mushrooms are one of the most common examples people use when trying to describe the “umami” flavor that is found in MSG.
In most traditional meals, people often used whole mushrooms, or slice them into small sections when cooking. This does the trick for adding the umami flavor, however many people do not like the texture associated with using whole mushrooms.
If you are looking to incorporate mushroom flavor into your meals without actually having to use whole or cut mushrooms, there are a variety of products on the market that can help you. For instance, many brands are now making mushroom seasonings that are made from dried mushrooms.
These seasonings allow you to get the flavor and the nutrient benefits of mushrooms, without having to use them whole!
Cheese is another common household ingredient that can be used to replace MSG. Depending on the type of cheese you use, your dish can boost in flavor!
In terms of MSG substitution, most people recommend using parmesan cheese, as it has many salty, umami, and of course, cheesy flavor qualities.
Cheese is a great substitute (like the others on this list), as it is fairly affordable, widely available, and healthy in small amounts. Depending on how much of the MSG flavor you are looking to add to your meals, cheese may be your choice, however, it usually works best in smaller amounts.
9. Coconut Aminos
Coconut aminos are an MSG substitute that you may not have heard of. Being a fairly new product, they are often lesser-known, however, they are now sold in most grocery stores.
Coconut aminos is a specialty sauce (similar to soy sauce) that is created for the sap/nectar of coconut trees. It has a very umami, smoky, and even soy sauce-like flavor!
Coconut aminos can easily substitute for MSG or soy sauce, as they have very similar flavor profiles. One drawback of using aminos is that they are fairly new on the market, and depending on where you are located, they may be somewhat expensive.
In the end, MSG has become a point of conflict among many people. Some agree that MSG is an unhealthy ingredient that can cause negative health side effects. On the other hand, others agree that it is a useful spice that can enhance the flavor of any dish it is added to.
In any case, there are some great MSG substitutes that you can find both in your home, and in grocery stores. Some of the most common MSG substitutes include:
- Soy sauce
- Beef broth
- Chicken broth
- Vegetable broth
- Nutritional yeast
- Coconut aminos
While these are some of the most common substitutes, there are plenty of other foods that have similar flavors to MSG. With this in mind, you now should have the power to pick your food additives, keeping cost, health benefits, and availability in mind. With all of this being said, go do some cooking, and have fun!