MSG in food

firestarter

macrumors 603
Original poster
Dec 31, 2002
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Green and pleasant land
What do people think of Monosodium Glutamate in food?

It's a controversial ingredient... some feel that it's overused, and eating it produces negative side effects (the famous 'Chinese Restaurant Syndrome'). While I've felt those effect once or twice after eating in restaurants, I'm not convinced that MSG was the cause (I've eaten plenty of MSG elsewhere with no ill effects). There appears to be no strong scientific evidence of problems, and the FDA classifies it as safe... but there's lots of anecdotal evidence to the contrary.

Glutamates appear very widely and naturally across a range of food. The Japanese originally identified them as providing a savoury taste (akin to saltiness or sweetness) and named that taste 'Umami'. Italian food is very high in natural glutamates... Parmesan cheese is a very potent source, as are tomatoes and meat. MSG is just an industrial source of this same flavouring.

Should we treat MSG akin to salt - an essential and harmless flavouring for our food? Or is it a chemical that we should distrust and reduce our reliance on?


(One reason I'm starting this thread is an article I read yesterday divulging the recipe behind KFC's special coating. That's right - the tasty secret it a bucket of MSG).
 

Macman45

macrumors G5
Jul 29, 2011
13,199
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Somewhere Back In The Long Ago
It's really widely used here in the UK...especially in Chinese take-away food. You can ask them to leave it out of your food, but I doubt they actually do it. I think there was a scare a good few years back about MSG and sterility in men?

There's so much stuff that's good for us one day, and bad the next. As with all things, moderation is the key.
 

GoCubsGo

macrumors Nehalem
Feb 19, 2005
35,741
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Anecdotal evidence is what I think I was raised on in this case. The issue with MSG, or the supposed issues associated with it, came up when I was much younger. From there I think I've just been groomed to look for the signs that say "No MSG" as though it's like an award or an A-rating on a restaurant. But funny this, I made some weird comment about Top Ramen on Twitter and the inclusion of MSG was brought up. I honestly don't think I knew that beforehand even though there has been Top Ramen in my house for some time. I don't buy it but I'll snag a bag and make what I consider to be Awesome Ramen from time to time (that is I use the noodles and put in my own seasonings often curry and other junk).

I'll be honest, the inclusion of MSG to me is unnecessary in food. There is already salt so why bother with MSG? Why not reduce our reliance on salt and MSG?
 

acidfast7

macrumors 65816
Nov 22, 2008
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EU
Yes but you're really going to tell me that people can really taste one over the other?
At sub-stimulus saturating concentrations they can be tasted synergistically (i.e. they produce different "taste" sensations as they activate different signaling pathways.)

The "salt pathway" is triggered by a channel, while the "glutamate pathways" is triggered by a GPCR, for example.

There is no over/under here, they're different.
 

firestarter

macrumors 603
Original poster
Dec 31, 2002
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Green and pleasant land
Anecdotal evidence is what I think I was raised on in this case. The issue with MSG, or the supposed issues associated with it, came up when I was much younger. From there I think I've just been groomed to look for the signs that say "No MSG" as though it's like an award or an A-rating on a restaurant.
There are natural glutamates, and chefs could produce that same taste naturally (perhaps with more effort). While I don't think MSG powder is necessarily bad, I can see some sense in preferring restaurants where the chef has developed those flavours naturally.

But funny this, I made some weird comment about Top Ramen on Twitter and the inclusion of MSG was brought up. I honestly don't think I knew that beforehand even though there has been Top Ramen in my house for some time. I don't buy it but I'll snag a bag and make what I consider to be Awesome Ramen from time to time (that is I use the noodles and put in my own seasonings often curry and other junk).
If you don't have any adverse reaction, and you like the taste of that Ramen brand then I can't see the problem.

I'll be honest, the inclusion of MSG to me is unnecessary in food. There is already salt so why bother with MSG? Why not reduce our reliance on salt and MSG?
MSG is a different taste to salt - you can't swap one for the other. MSG's 'taste' is a lot more subtle (rather, it enhances other flavours) - but it definitely makes food more tasty. Personally, I like tasty food - so I don't really want to reduce either!

Of all the food additives out there, MSG seems to be one of the less dangerous. I think there's a greater case to drop the level of sugar in food (especially corn syrup in processed food) than either salt or MSG.

If you ever add parmesan to Italian food, you're essentially adding a natural source of glutamates.
 

eawmp1

macrumors 601
Feb 19, 2008
4,138
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FL
Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy.
-Paracelsus

Moderation, my friends, is the key.
 

Tomorrow

macrumors 604
Mar 2, 2008
7,155
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Always a day away
Yes but you're really going to tell me that people can really taste one over the other?
Not if I taste them both at once, but if I taste them separately, yes.

Salt, to me, tastes salty. I rarely use it except in boiling water or in baking, and even then more for its chemical properties than its flavor.

MSG by itself doesn't have much of a flavor to me, but it seems to bring out other flavors, especially with meats and vegetables (I can't tell much of a difference when I use it on something starchy or sweet). If I taste MSG by itself it doesn't taste like salt to me.

I know one of the knocks against MSG is that it has sodium (as does salt), which my cardiologist recommends that I limit. Since MSG doesn't really do all that much for me, I don't cook with it - but I don't necessarily seek to avoid it if I order out.
 

Happybunny

macrumors 68000
Sep 9, 2010
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Well I really had to look that one up. (it's true you really are never to old to learn).:)
I for one had never heard about MSG.
It has an E number. E621.

I must say I am luckily not affected, as I love chinese and asian food.:D
 

MovieCutter

macrumors 68040
May 3, 2005
3,342
2
Washington, DC
Either way, I know when food has MSG in it because now in my old age (27), my body completely rejects it. I LOVE KFC, but I can't eat it anymore unfortunately. Same with the take-out Chinese place down the street. I've actually gotten it down to a science. When I eat it, I feel sick for at least 24 hours. I used to be able to eat a 12 piece or 3 entrees from Golden China without any repercussions. Not sure if it's metabolism or what, but I just can't eat that crap anymore.

That being said, I still eat Asian. There's an amazing Thai place down the street from me that is the freshest food I've ever had delivered to me. I know for a fact they don't use MSG and it tastes delicious!
 

GoCubsGo

macrumors Nehalem
Feb 19, 2005
35,741
146
^ fair enough. I simply don't think I've ever tasted MSG alone nor have I sought out MSG to taste alone. I prefer to season my food using stand alone herbs and spices, even when something calls for Italian seasoning I tend to just mix it up on my own. I may not look it but I do like to know what is going into my mouth.
 

eawmp1

macrumors 601
Feb 19, 2008
4,138
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FL
Understanding what one is eating is much more important.
Yes, but understanding water doesn't negate the possible lethality of extreme polydipsia.

MSG is safe in reasonable amounts. However, some people are sensitive to it at lower dosages and have adverse effects (not unlike the fact some people are sensitive to and have adverse effects from even small amounts of ethanol).
 

lewis82

macrumors 68000
Aug 26, 2009
1,708
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Totalitarian Republic of Northlandia
Yes, but understanding water doesn't negate the possible lethality of extreme polydipsia.

MSG is safe in reasonable amounts. However, some people are sensitive to it at lower dosages and have adverse effects (not unlike the fact some people are sensitive to and have adverse effects from even small amounts of ethanol).
Some people are allergic to peanuts yet they aren't seen as a bad thing. There are no campaigns to ban peanuts from asian food.

"But you can ask if there are peanuts in the meal!" Yes, but one can also ask if there is MSG in the food, if one is overly sensitive to MSG.
 

mkrishnan

Moderator emeritus
Jan 9, 2004
29,776
12
Grand Rapids, MI, USA
MSG by itself doesn't have much of a flavor to me, but it seems to bring out other flavors, especially with meats and vegetables (I can't tell much of a difference when I use it on something starchy or sweet). If I taste MSG by itself it doesn't taste like salt to me.

I know one of the knocks against MSG is that it has sodium (as does salt), which my cardiologist recommends that I limit. Since MSG doesn't really do all that much for me, I don't cook with it - but I don't necessarily seek to avoid it if I order out.
Right -- so MSG is a salt in the sense that it's an ionic compound with an acid (glutamic acid) and a base (sodium), but it's important to remember that the molecular weight of glutamic acid is much higher than the atomic weight of chlorine, and they're both 1:1 compounds. That means that there's a lot less sodium in a teaspoon / gram / whatever of MSG than there is of NaCl. It isn't going to act very strongly on salt receptors in the tongue or taste very salty.

I don't know. I feel like I can taste MSG in things that have it (tomatoes, peas, corn, grapes, etc), but it does also meld together with other flavors. One doesn't taste bitter and sweet and other flavors in isolation from each other (or from smells) either.

I don't really care for adding glutamic acid manually via MSG -- like Jessica I mostly stick with plain spices (and some curry powder).

Oh, also, as an aside, for the most part, glutamic acid in the bloodstream doesn't cross into the brain, and it's not that likely to have a neurological impact (ref).
 

snberk103

macrumors 603
Oct 22, 2007
5,503
87
An Island in the Salish Sea
Never eat the stuff, except by accident.

My feeling is - if the food is so bland and tasteless that it needs MSG to taste better, then I need to find better food. MSG isn't the problem, it's the bland food that is the problem.

ps - Re: KFC: if you ever saw how chicken nuggets are made, you'd never ever eat them again. Find the Youtube video. Make sure your next meal is something that doesn't involve chicken before you do.
 

0098386

Suspended
Jan 18, 2005
21,574
2,909
It's really widely used here in the UK...especially in Chinese take-away food.
Really? My local posh chinese chippy has a sign saying they've never used MSG in their food, and even the regular ones have never used it.

I wasn't aware we used it much in the UK, if at all. I've only been aware of its existence for 9 years and in that time I've never consumed it (from food I get at Tescos and Sainsburys, local restaurants etc).
 

firestarter

macrumors 603
Original poster
Dec 31, 2002
5,498
116
Green and pleasant land
Well, as an experiment (and since I had a bag of MSG in my cupboard) I decided to throw it into some food this evening.

I cooked Japanese pork katsu (deepfried pork cutlet) with rice and curry sauce (healthy!). I brined the pork in water/salt/sugar and MSG for 2 hours before I started.

Taste sensation! The cutlets were REALLY tasty (maybe a bit too much). More experimentation to follow...

Really? My local I wasn't aware we used it much in the UK, if at all. I've only been aware of its existence for 9 years and in that time I've never consumed it (from food I get at Tescos and Sainsburys, local restaurants etc).
MSG is in lots of things. If you have a hunt around in your kitchen it will be in something. I don't eat much processed food, but I had a look and found some crisps and some packets of pasta/sauce with it as an ingredient.
 

iBlue

macrumors Core
Mar 17, 2005
19,182
15
London, England
I don't see how it's a superior flavouring to any other and considering all the "anecdotal evidence" about it I don't know why it's so widely used. I'm guessing it's cheaper, the reason for almost everything these days.

I can eat it in small doses but in large doses I WILL get a migraine about 8-12 hours later. Because the effects can be delayed by 2-3 days, some people may not even realize what's making them feel crappy, one way or another. Just because there isn't definitive evidence doesn't mean there isn't a problem. Seems many people are wising up about MSG and that being the case it would be nice if food manufacturers at least put a warning on the label, like they do with nut or gluten allergies or even if a product contains meat.

What really pisses me off is that food manufacturers know people are wary of MSG/Monosodium Glutamate so they actually go so far as to hide it under other names, like maltodextrin or hydrolyzed vegetable protein. There are other even more ambiguous names they hide it under, including "spice", which is totally goddamn ridiculous. Things like this are purposely deceptive and clearly hoping some hapless consumer who may not know about those aliases will buy it. I find that to be a loathsome practice, possibly days worth of suffering for a person just so they can rake in a few pennies with their deceptive packaging.
THAT part, the labelling needs regulating. Use MSG all you like but be up front about it so those that do have problems can know what they're getting.
 

firestarter

macrumors 603
Original poster
Dec 31, 2002
5,498
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Green and pleasant land
I don't see how it's a superior flavouring to any other
That's kind of like saying 'I don't see how green is a superior colour to any other'.

It's recognised as the trigger for one of the five basic tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami.

If you want umami - 'savouriness' - in your food, you're going to be using glutemates, of which MSG is an industrial/refined source.

It seems that Asian cooking has traditionally sought out this flavour more than Western cooking... hence 'Chinese Restaurant Syndrome' issue - however the flavouring is growing in popularity here. If you watch any Heston Blumenthal programme, he always tries to enhance natural glutemates (as far as I know he doesn't use refined MSG though).

and considering all the "anecdotal evidence" about it I don't know why it's so widely used. I'm guessing it's cheaper, the reason for almost everything these days.
It certainly shouldn't be over-used, and yes, using refined MSG powder is probably cheaper than using glutemate-filled ingredients. To that extent, I agree.

I'd be interested to know whether negative reactions to MSG were as prevalent as reactions to seafood, alcohol, nuts etc.

<snip>

THAT part, the labelling needs regulating. Use MSG all you like but be up front about it so those that do have problems can know what they're getting.
I don't doubt that some have a negative reaction to it... and for that reason packaging should clearly state its presence if used. I completely agree with you.
 

slapple

macrumors 6502
Jul 25, 2008
442
13
Some people are more sensitive to it than others. I can't eat at Chick-Fil-A or have any Campbell's Soup because they use too much MSG. I got headaches and digestive problems from eating those foods.
 
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