Wednesday, November 04, 2009

MSG, Monosodium Glutamate

I wanted to write a blog post about MSG or monosodium glutamate, or the sodium salt of the amino acid glutamic acid from my stand point. Are you afraid of the word MSG? Because I do, I was brought up to fear or stay clear of MSG. My mom and media always said how MSG is bad for our health, American even have the so-called, "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome" anecdotes. Thus over the years, MSG is kinda taboo to me, a product to avoid while shopping at the Asian stores. It became so much so that I felt unease when I spotted a packet of MSG in my friend's kitchen cabinet. I believe I have been brainwashed.

In reality, MSG is concluded as safe by FDA for most people when eaten at customary amount. It usage is like salt, just a little to season the food at the end for the ultimate "Umami" taste, the so-called fifth taste or meaty/savory taste. A lot of researches had been done on MSG and the results were the same, it is a safe "food enhancer" or "food addictive" to use. Chinese and Japanese have been using MSG for years with no problem. They openly used MSG in their cooking shows (which prompted me to research about MSG in the first place). I wonder what would happen if the American food cooking show openly uses MSG in their cooking shows?

Our bodies need Glutamate or amino acids. Our bodies produce it. Even human breast milk has a fair amount of glutamate compared to cow milk. If nature thinks amino acids is safe for newborn baby so why are we so afraid of it? Tomato, mushroom, soy sauce, Parmesan cheese have natural occurring Glutamate (free Glutamate) in them. We eat them with no problem because it makes the food taste better. Modern commercial MSG (sodium form of natural occurring glutamate) is produced by fermentation of starch, sugar beets, sugar cane, or molasses. Fermented products such as soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce have levels of glutamate similar to foods with added MSG. Lots of bottled Chinese sauces, American canned food, broths, chips, condiments, bouillon cubes have MSG in them. I eat them and I never suffer from any sort of "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome". We are so taboo of the word MSG that the manufacturers had to come out with a different name to conceal it. Such as hydrolyzed vegetable proteins, yeast extract, soy extracts, hydrolyzed yeast just to name a few. Even now if you do a search on Monosodium Glutamate, lots of anti-MSG web pages are there.

Recently as I was watching the Chinese cooking show, the host even said the latest finding on MSG is actually good for health. It also promotes appetite especially for older people, picky children, pregnant women to at least make them eat some food and thus increase the nutrient intake. Also read that by using MSG, you can significantly cut down the salt intake. But I am so brainwashed that I just couldn't pick up a packet of MSG from the store. But I have no problem picking up chicken stock granules though, my reason being it is chicken stock with added MSG, as opposed to 100% MSG. I know I am kidding myself, even you cooks out there who use the commercial chicken, beef or vegetable stocks, bouillon cubes to cook your food, you know MSG does make the food taste better. Hey, you loved to add Parmesan cheese and soy sauce on your food right?

Why are we so brainwashed? FDA already concluded that MSG is safe
except to some small amount of over-sensitive people after some intensive research . It is so controversial that there are more bad news of MSG than good on the web. But billions of Chinese have been using MSG like salt as another form of food enhancer, we have been eating it unconsciously or consciously in restaurants and packaged food all this time. SO?

I wanted to conclude that I am brainwashed as even now my mom and older aunties still telling me to avoid MSG as it is bad for me. But I did some research and I can see the fact and I am going to be more open-minded because I know most of the bottled sauces have MSG in it, even soy sauce that Chinese cook can go without and frankly I have been consuming MSG all my life just in another form. So, why all the hype about the word "MSG" or "Ajinomoto"? = I am kidding myself. As for the majority of population, MSG is safe unless you have vitamin B-6 deficiency, or overly-sensitive to MSG.


I would love to thanks Tracie Moo from Bitter Sweet Flavours for passing me these two lovely awards. I am not going to pass it around as I stop doing tag long ago. Thanks though Tracie! :)


ICook4Fun said...

I was brought up the same way as you. My mom used to tell us that MSG is bad and all my hair will fall off if I eat too much of it. But it can't be avoided since we eat out a lot especially in Malaysia. Some dishes are loaded with it. I don't cook with it but I guess a bit of it in our food is ok.

homeladychef said...

I agree with you. CY always does reviews and researches of what other people say about food and sauce, MSG is one of them. :) Myth is what we call it, not always true. I think this artical will educate more people and do justice to MSG.

My Asian Kitchen said...

what a mouthful informations for us to sallow!! haha!! thanks for the valuable info! btw,American are so afraid of MSG!! when I was working in Asian or chinese restaurant here,customers keep remind us NOt to add MSG in their food!! they have no idea how the hell their food taste good,right? honestly all asian or chinese restaurant used MSG when cooking eventhougt they print in their menu BIG said NO MSG!! I know chicken boullion have msg,so I don't use msg .I think the key is moderate!!

Anonymous said...

Everytime I have dim sum or Chinese food for lunch, I will end up having post nasal dripping and can only breathe through my nose. I could not lay down to sleep hours after eating. I can tell it is from the MSG. I will avoid it as much as possible.

Family First said...

I think everything in moderation is ok.

Little Corner of Mine said...

Haha Gert, I just heard that MSG will cause the hair to fall out is a myth. Well, you only need to use a little bit in the food to enhance it, more than that equal to ineffective. We really eat MSG all the times in oyster sauce, package premix, or naturally in cheese, mushroom, tomato, soy sauce, etc.

I agreed homeladychef, MSG has been getting bad reputation unjustifiably. So bad that it brainwashed lots of people, including me. When I looked at my fridge and pantry, a lot of products have some sort of MSG in it. Got to stop kidding myself right? :)

You're welcome Les! Yes, American are so afraid of MSG, I totally agreed! I hope they know that they have no reason to avoid it unless they are the minority that are overly sensitive to it.

Anon, you must be the minority that is over-sensitive to MSG or have vitamin B-6 deficiency.

Family First, yes everything in moderation is the key. I just want the public to know that there is nothing wrong or bad about MSG.

Kristy said...

I use MSG and my mother use it too. There is nothing wrong with MSG if you only use small amount. I think problems occur when the restaurant use a lot at one time. Usually for cooking I would use less than 1/2 teaspoon or only 1/4 tsp. Sometime I really don't know the difference with or without the MSG. Since I couldn't tell the difference, I have use it less and less. I do agree that America is too sensitive about MSG. Heard all the bad things about it. In reality, you'll just get sleepy after consuming a lot at one time. After the time passes you'll be back to normal again.

Diane aka cameldiva said...

My mum used to sneer at families that used MSG in their food or had MSG in their recipies. She said that MSG was for lazy cooks that didn't work hard enough to make the food taste good without it. So for the most part, we don't really add it to our foods unless it senaks int hrough oyster sauce or other ingredients. However, the other day, she was using some sinigang mix (Filipino tamarind soup mix) that clearly had MSG in it.. so I called her on it and she has since changed her mind - in small quantities, it is okay, apparently. I do get really thirsty after a heavily MSGed meal but aside from that, I don't go out of my way to use it but I am not paranoid about avoiding it too.Thanks for your post. It certainly highlights our biases.

rokh said...

wow thanks for the informational write up. well i am also brainwashed to not use MSG, but i must say my grandmother even uses it! i guess a little would not hurt but overload (i think easily could as its not like salt where it is obvious when over), i will have side effects like thirsty the whole day/

noobcook said...

same here. was brought up to believe that MSG is evil, causes hair loss and thirst etc (I even heard "cancer"). I did some research myself and found conflicting research like you... I don't mind MSG at all, but since it's already everywhere in outside food, so I try not to add it in home cooking :)

Sweet Jasmine said...

I have not use MSg in my cooking due to all the negative info that point to its usage. I guess consuming it on a moderate scale will not be harmful but some restaurant over indulge it in their cooking to the extent that we feel very thirsty after eating. I have use some ajinomoto salt in some dishes to enahance the taste but I still prefer chicken stock to MSG.

Little Corner of Mine said...

ch3rri, yup, nothing wrong in using MSG at the recommended amount, just a little in the end for the umami taste.

Diane, hahaha...frankly it's hard to create the umami taste without the assistance of glutamate in free form or sodium salt form. Italian food got it from the Parmesan cheese, mushroom and tomato sauce.

You're welcome Rokh, we are certainly bias when it comes to MSG. So, I want to clear out the misconception about MSG.

Noobcook, well it's in my home cooking too, like in the form of oyster sauce, soy sauce, other bottled sauces, chicken stock granules, so I don't need to buy MSG for my cooking. :P

Sweet Jasmine, me too, I prefer chicken stock granules instead of MSG in my cooking. For certain vegetable dishes, I need it to bring out the flavor. Salt alone won't do it. Aiya, MSG is (or hidden) in most processed food, so we don't really need to buy MSG to season our food. As we have no reason to stay away from MSG processed food since it's safe.

bluebabe said...

I have to battle perceptions from people about my 'psychological paranoia' about MSG since young. I have never been brainwashed about its evils, but I have come to the conclusion after numerous occasions and the process of elimination that MSG was the culprit for my childhood asthma attacks, severe headaches, extreme thirst and restlessness. After cutting it out (I eat mostly unprocessed food), I am a lot happier about life. I eat a lot of Vit B6. I just want to say a few things about looking up information from the web.

1. Check sources. Many studies were sponsored by Ajinomoto. If they concluded that MSG was bad, the company would have to fold. Not going to happen.

2. Yes, glutamate is an amino acid we use. However, it is NON-essential, i.e., our bodies can make it, we don't need to eat it.

3. Naturally occurring glutamate is in the L-form, the manufactured glutamate has some D-forms and impurities. What do they do? Who really knows.

4. The minority of people of are sensitive to MSG is not that small, estimated to be 25%. I have been inadvertently sickened by well-meaning friends before, to the point that I need to check ingredients before I attend parties. Socially awkward.

Hope this helps.

Little Corner of Mine said...

Bluebabe, since you know you are sensitive to MSG, then of course avoid it as much as you can. I just wanted to point out that because of the 25% of you, the 75% of us who are not sensitive to MSG also thought that MSG is evil whereas it is a generally safe product.

Babe_KL said...

my mom used to sprinkle a little to her soups which enhances the taste. over in KL the hawkers and restaurants, i was shocked when i see the amount they used hahaha which was why i tend to feel thirsty when overdosed

3 hungry tummies said...

I think you are right about the name MSG or Ajinomoto, it has been poisoned by media or our elders. While most people avoid buying a packet of MSG but happily using ready made sauce that is laden with it. According to my Chinese doctor it is not a harmful substance to our body, but our minds already decided to disagree!

Little Corner of Mine said...

3 hungry tummies, I agreed with you 100%.

Anonymous said...

I think this is an interesting post. You may not be so positive about MSG if you have read scientific studies about MSG being toxic to brain processes.

This is only one of multiple sources that has similar information. I doubt you will let this comment be published but I am a mother too (and you have two little ones). Perhaps this will make you think twice about adding MSG to the food you serve them. Children's body mass is much smaller, making them much more susceptible to the effects of chemicals in their food.
Good day to you and your family!

Little Corner of Mine said...

Hi Anon,
I don't know, I read both sides of the stories and I still think it might be a conspiracy to destroy MSG in America.

Read this:

I actually want to read more about the scientific results that were done in China or other countries instead of America. People in America have too many allergy cases to begin with. Some even said garlic is poison to the brain.

I guess everything in moderation is the key.

Little Corner of Mine said...


Read this too:

All the craps about MSG increase body weight, is a neurotoxin might just be a myth because all the latest findings have said otherwise. It wouldn't be on the supermarket shelf or majority of the processed food if it is toxin after so many years of these reports have been circulating on the web and so many researches have done on it. Have to look at the current research and not old research that have proved questionable.

Breast milk has 19% free glutamic in it compared to 3% of cow milk. That's why babies who were fed with breast milk were less likely to develop allergy. Maybe that's the reason why people in America have lots of allergy because they were fed with formula? We definitely need to encourage breast feeding more! Sorry out of topic ya.