Wednesday 13 March 2024

MSG, Monosodium Glutamate

    MSG or Monosodium Glutamate, has been given a bad wrap which has caused many people to avoid it.  That’s too bad, because it is a perfectly safe flavor enhancer, that occurs naturally in things like tomatoes and cheese.  MSG is often used to intensify meaty and savory flavors in foods.  

    In the early 1900’s a man named Ikeda, a Japanese biochemist became curious about the delicious flavor in his wife’s soup, that contained kelp sea weed.  After a lot of research he isolated the flavor and was able to duplicate it chemically.  He called his product Monosodium Glutamate, and started to produce and sell it.  

    Because it made things tastier, it became very popular, especially in Asian food.  However in the 1960, a scientist in the US, wrote a letter to the editor of a science journal wondering if MSG was the cause of “headaches and discomfort” felt by some people after eating at Chinese restaurants.  Without any proof, this idea, became known as “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” and rapidly spread across the nation, and so many people believed it, that Asian food establishments really began to suffer economically.   You can still often see “No MSG added” signs in some Asian restaurants, as a result of the unsubstantiated idea.

    Like the anti-vaccination misinformation which exists today, despite so many scientific studies, the fear of MSG also remains, even though MSG has been scientifically studied more than most other food substances, and all of those studies have failed to link it to any negative reactions.  It takes five times as much MSG to kill a mouse, than regular table salt.

    Most people are aware of four basic flavors:  Sweet, sour, salty, and bitter, but a fifth flavor is now recognized and is called “umami” (delicious taste).  It is described as savory, characteristic of broth and cooked meats.    This taste has its own taste receptors on your tongue and other places in your mouth.  Monosodium glutamate is an additive that activates those receptors.  It can be described as a pleasant "brothy” or “meaty” taste with a long-lasting, mouthwatering and coating sensation over the tongue.

    MSG has an appearance similar to salt.  I like to sprinkle some on my popcorn and add it to my soups.  Sprinkle some of your foods before adding salt, and you will probably end up using less salt.  Low salt foods can maintain a good taste with the right amount of umami.  

    Surprisingly, studies have shown that the first encounter humans have of the umami taste comes from the breast milk. 

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