Monosodium Glutamate or popularly known as MSG is a common food additive mostly used in Asian recipes. The same can also be found in fast foods and other commercially packaged foods.
MSG is white in color and it is derived from the natural glutamic acid commonly found in sugar beets, seaweed, and certain types of vegetables.
Is it safe to use MSG? How often is enough? Where to buy MSG? These and more questions are covered in this guide. The aim is to help you understand what MSG is all about and if it could be a great food additive for you or not.
Where to Buy MSG
Now that you know a bit more about MSG, you might be interested in buying some for yourself.
It is not hard to buy MSG as it is readily available in many supermarkets and some convenience stores too.
You are likely to find some brands selling it as the Accent brand flavor enhancer. However, always check the ingredients to see if it has 100% MSG. It is common for brands to offer blends too, meaning such a product would also have additional spices as the other ingredients.
For those that might have problems buying it locally, you could still buy online. Visit stores such as Amazon to check out who has listed MSG for sale. You can be sure to get several options online from other stores too.
Is it Harmful?
It is possible you may have come across materials online claiming MSG is harmful. Well, there is a lot of misinformation online, so it would be best to take your time to understand MSG better before claiming that it is harmful.
The glutamic acid found in MSG works as a neurotransmitter for the brain. So, when you take excessive amounts of MSG, it can easily lead to excessive stimulation of your nerve cells. It is for this reason MSG is commonly referred to as an excitotoxin.
MSG dates back as the late 1960s when a study found that injecting MSG in large doses into newborn mice could lead to harmful neurological effects. It is since then that more people have been adamant to consider using MSG for various applications.
Like any other product, using too much of MSG can easily cause harm. The large doses of MSG will mean more levels of glutamate in the blood. So, it is best to use MSG within the recommended amounts if you want to enjoy it without any major side effects.
Well, one thing is for sure, the dietary glutamate or MSG should have little or sometimes no effect on the brain. It is hard for it to cross the body’s blood-brain barrier for glutamate. As such, more people should feel safe using MSG in the recommended doses.
The takeaway is that no human studies show that MSG can lead to the destruction of your nerve cells. What you need to do is use it correctly and you should not have any problems.
Keep in mind that MSG is a food additive. Its work is to add umami to your food. As such, it will lead to a savory or meaty taste. It is why more people would be willing to try it out to see what kind of taste they would get when adding MSG to their food.
Another use of MSG is to enhance the flavors. In this case, the salty and sour flavors. You are now likely to find MSG common in homes and restaurants as a way of enhancing the dishes and intensifying the flavors generally.
As mentioned earlier, MSG is common in Asian recipes. However, you can still find Caribbean and Latin American Cuisines also using MSG. This is especially as spice rubs to enhance the flavor even more.
MSG is loved in the kitchen as it will balance the sweet and sour flavors while at the same time mellow the natural bitterness common in some vegetables. Some find it as a great way of cutting down on sodium commonly added to food by using a lot of salt.
MSG can still be included in multiple food types available in supermarket shelves. This includes the flavored crackers and chips, soups, instant noodles, seasoning salt, salad dressing, cold cuts, and more.
If you like eating fast-food, you can be sure you are eating a good amount of MSG from such food types.
Can You Cook with MSG?
Yes. By now you know that MSG can be used in cooking too.
To use it for cooking, you will have to add MSG before or during your cooking process. You may also have to add salt and pepper while cooking to bring out more flavors.
Let say it is a meal of six people, such a meal only needs ½ teaspoon of MSG. This should be enough to enhance the flavor. Sometimes the amount is a personal preference, but make sure not to overdo it.
Having too much MSG in the food will easily lead to an undesirable flavor that will not improve the taste of your food in any way.
If you have to use both salt and MSG, start with smaller amounts then add more where necessary.
Foods that Might Have MSG
Below is a list of foods that might already contain MSG and you did not know.
- Fast foods
Fast foods are often loaded with MSG to make them taste better. The biggest culprit is Chinese food. It is why there is a term called Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.
The Chinese Restaurant Syndrome is characterized by having symptoms such as throat swelling, hives, headaches, itching, belly pain, and more. Such symptoms start to show when a person eats Chinese food containing a lot of MSG.
As much as most Chinese Restaurants have cut back on using MSG, there are others that still add the same to popular dishes such as fried rice.
MSG is still used in popular franchises such as KFC and Chick-fil-A to enhance the flavors in their foods.
- Chips and Snacks
The savory flavor of chips and snacks is mostly boosted by using MSG. All your favorite snacks such as Pringles and Doritos all have MSG to make them that good.
The same MSG can still be added to other snacks other than the popular ones in the market. If you think you are allergic to MSG, read the product label first. The last thing you need is an allergic reaction after enjoying your snacks.
- Seasoning blends
The seasoning blends are commonly used to give the user a savory, salt taste. You can now find such blends used in seasoning of tacos, stews, and stir fries.
Most people prefer seasoning with MSG rather than using salt, as they also enjoy the umami flavor that comes with MSG.
Also, MSG is commonly used in the production of the common low sodium foods. These foods need more flavor without adding salt. It is for this reason; the bouillon cubes would have MSG to make them taste better.
- Frozen Meals
As much as many people tend to love frozen meals, they are not always the best. They can sometimes have many unhealthy ingredients and this includes MSG in high amounts.
Many companies making frozen foods would add MSG as a way of giving the meal a savory flavor. This should make the food taste great even if it has been frozen for a long time.
Some of the frozen foods that might contain MSG include frozen pizzas, frozen breakfast meals, and mac and cheese.
- Canned Soups
Canned soups and other soup mixes will often also have MSG as an additive. Its work is to intensify the savory flavors that most people are looking to get in soups.
Campbell’s chicken noodle soup is a popular soup option that contains MSG. If you like taking this type of soup, now you know what makes it have the savory flavor.
Other soup products that might have MSG include dried soup mixes, bouillon seasonings, and more. Always check the individual product labels to understand what you are taking.
- Processed meats
There is no doubt you expected to see this on the list. Processed meats such as lunch meats, sausages, hot dogs, smoked meats, and more will contain MSG too.
Other than enhancing their taste, MSG will help in reducing the sodium content required to achieve the same flavor. So, some might feel it is worth the tradeoff.
There is a study that found adding MSG to pork patties enhanced its salty flavor without necessarily impacting their taste.
MSG and User Sensitivity
As much as MSG is something people enjoy using, it is worth noting that it can lead to some adverse effects, especially if you are sensitive to MSG.
Someone who is sensitive to MSG is likely to have symptoms such as headaches, tingling, muscle tightness, flushing, and weakness after consuming MSG.
It is worth noting that it takes a lot of MSG to trigger such symptoms. In most cases, 3 grams of MSG per meal is often enough to trigger the symptoms. 3 grams is a high dose per meal. This is around six times that what is recommended as the daily intake of MSG. So, it is understandable if someone develops the symptoms.
There are some claims that MSG can also lead to asthma attacks. As much as this is yet to be proven on a larger scale, you may want to take more precautions if you are asthmatic.
Impact of MSG on Flavors and Calorie-Intake
If you are keen, you might have noticed that some foods can be more filling compared to others. It is for this reason, you may want to consider getting yourself such foods as they reduce your calorie intake, which in turn means weight loss.
There is some evidence from several studies that show how MSG can help in reducing your calorie intake by making you feel full faster and for longer.
This is mostly when you consume popular soups flavored using MSG. Such soups will make you to eat less in subsequent meals meaning you do not have to worry much about overeating too.
As much as that is the case, some other studies show the opposite. However, the majority show MSG can help make you feel fuller for longer.
How MSG Affects Obesity and Metabolic Disorders
I have explored above how MSG can make you eat less, but some studies suggest otherwise. This is however mostly animal studies. They show how MSG made rats and mice become obese.
As much as this might be the case, there is less evidence showing the same can happen in humans.
There are newer studies being conducted with results showing that the use of MSG in high amounts can potentially lead to weight gain. This is when you consume up to 2.2 grams daily.
There is still so much to be done before there can be conclusive studies showing this is the case. This does not mean you let loose and start using a lot of MSG. Make sure that you keep it within the recommended range always.
The takeaway is that more human studies are necessary before there can be a conclusive link of MSG to obesity or related metabolic disorders.
From the guide above, it is easy to see how you can easily get MSG in different foods. As such, you would also be exposing yourself to potential side effects. It is why more people are intrigued to find MSG-free alternatives.
The best way would mostly be having a balanced diet. No need to eat chips all the time when there is a chance to eat healthier meals. As suggested earlier, MSG is common in fast foods, so expect to be eating a lot of it when you resolve to use such foods more often.
The other most common alternative is salt. However, salt also has its fair share of downsides. It would be best to keep the salt-intake within the recommended levels. If you take too much salt, you could end up with conditions such as stroke, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
Some other healthier alternatives include garlic powder, basil, ginger, dill, thyme, and onion powder.
The bottom line is that MSG is common around us, what you need to make sure is that you do not consume a lot of it. This will help you have a nice time using it once in a while in different foods or enhancing flavors in your recipes without many risks.
So far, there is enough evidence showing how MSG can be a great choice for most people who want to enjoy a savory flavor. However, do not go around eating low quality processed foods loaded with MSG as a way of enhancing their flavors.