Monosodium Glutamate, or MSG, is an often misunderstood additive used to enhance a dish’s umami flavor. Umami is a savory component often referred to as “the fifth” taste in addition to sweet, sour, salty, and bitter.
MSG is described as having a slightly salty flavor with a very subtle umami element, similar to mushrooms or parmesan cheese when eaten on its own. However, when added to food, MSG breathes life into your cooking by intensifying the dish’s flavors with a strong umami punch.
What is MSG?
MSG is a flavor enhancer ubiquitous in Asian cuisine and often added to soups, stews, sauces, packaged foods, meats, and anything else that can benefit from an added savory component.
MSG is a white crystal powder similar in appearance to table salt, though it is not necessarily a salt replacement and is intended to be used alongside salt and spices. Additionally, MSG differs from salt in that it is made from water, sodium, and glutamate, while salt is made from sodium and chloride.
Glutamate, where the bulk of MSG’s flavor-magnifying power comes from, is an amino acid found naturally in proteins, cheese, and plants such as mushrooms and tomatoes.
MSG is created when the carbohydrates from vegetables such as corn and beets are fermented and produce glutamate, which is then purified before taking its final crystallized form.
Why Do People Use MSG?
MSG is a somewhat divisive additive, as there have been possible links to health risks for individuals who may have a hypersensitivity to the ingredient. MSG is also often used to boost flavor in processed foods, earning it an undeserved negative reputation.
Still, there are benefits to including MSG in your cooking, including but not limited to:
- MSG enhances flavors with two-thirds of the sodium of table salt. Lowered sodium intake can help reduce blood pressure and the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Increasing the umami flavor in recipes allows you to cut fat without sacrificing taste.
- Adding MSG allows you to fine-tune the flavors present in a dish with fewer ingredients.
- MSG stimulates our tongue’s taste receptors, going so far as to boost acceptance of particular flavors.
So long as you’re not one of the individuals with an MSG sensitivity, MSG is a fantastic way to elevate the flavors in your cooking. Considering that using MSG leads to an overall decrease in salt usage, It’s also an efficient way to accentuate the good while cutting out the bad.
How Do I Use MSG In My Cooking?
A dash of MSG can be added to your food before or after cooking in the same way you would sprinkle in salt and other seasonings. The measurement of MSG necessary depends on the amount you’re cooking, but a good rule of thumb is to add ½ teaspoon per pound of meat or ½ teaspoon per 4- 6 servings of vegetables. A pinch of MSG also makes for a tasty addition to:
- Salad dressings
- Anything else you feel could use a savory kick.
While MSG may be the secret ingredient that takes savory food from “fine” to “divine,” be warned that it will not lend itself well to sweet dishes such as desserts or fruit.
Is MSG Safe?
A hotly-debated topic, MSG is generally considered safe by the Food and Drug Administration. Researches have yet to determine the validity of MSG hypersensitivity, though some individuals have reported the following symptoms following MSG consumption:
- Flushed face
- Numbness, tingling, burning in the face or other areas of the body
- Rapid, fluttering heart beats
- Chest Pain
Though the above symptoms may seem concerning, they are often mild and do not require treatment aside from avoiding foods containing MSG in the future.
MSG, while it may have a checkered reputation, is invaluable when it comes to ensuring your cooking is a cut above the rest. MSG can add more depth of flavor than salt alone and does so with one-third of the sodium content.
As a result, MSG is an overall flavor-enhancer, adding depth to any savory dish and going so far as to stimulate our taste receptors and lead to an overall greater enjoyment of what’s on your plate.