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Monosodium Glutamate 101: A Glossary of MSG-related Terms

By November 30, 2020December 1st, 2020MSG
meaning of MSG

Been a minute since your last science class? Confidently have conversations about the meaning of MSG and related terms using this glossary.


meaning of MSG and related termsUmami – Umami is one of the five basic tastes. It’s a pleasant savory taste that may indicate protein is present in food. It’s a subtle flavor that blends well with other tastes to round out the flavor of foods. More on umami.

Savory – Savory is another word for the umami taste. Featured savory recipes on MSGdish.

MSG – Monosodium glutamate, or MSG, is a seasoning that contains sodium and glutamate. It is the purest form of umami. It adds savoriness and enhances other flavors in foods. It is worth noting that MSG contains less sodium than salt and therefore can be used as a sodium reducer in recipes. 10 Facts about MSG.

Glutamate – Glutamate, also known as glutamic acid, is an amino acid found in nearly all protein-containing food. It’s presence on the tongue signals the brain to tell the stomach to prepare for protein digestion. It is also naturally made by the human body. Levels of glutamate in select foods.

Glutamic acid – Glutamic acid is one of the most common amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. It is also called glutamate.

Amino acids – Amino acids join together to form proteins. There are 22 different amino-acids. Eight of them are considered “essential” because we need them to live but the human body can’t make them, so they must be obtained from food. The other 14 amino acids are deemed “non-essential” because they can be acquired from food or made by the body. Glutamate is a non-essential amino acid.

Bound glutamate – Bound glutamate is glutamate that is connected to other amino acids forming a protein molecule. This type of glutamate does not signal umami flavor when we eat it.

Free glutamate – Free glutamate is glutamate that is not attached to other amino acids like it would be if it was part of a protein. Only free glutamate – not bound – signals the umami flavor of food. Ingredients often used for their savory flavor, such as tomatoes and mushrooms, have naturally high levels of free glutamate.

Fermentation – Fermentation is a natural process that has been used for centuries. Yeast or bacteria consume – or “ferment” – carbohydrates and produce a different substance. Products like vinegar, yogurt and beer are made through fermentation. MSG is also made via fermentation. Bacteria eat carbohydrates from corn to make glutamate. It is then purified and crystallized before being sold as a seasoning powder.

Hydrolyzed proteins – Hydrolyzed proteins are proteins that have been broken down into amino acids. This process releases free glutamate. Thus, hydrolyzed proteins can be used in foods to enhance the umami flavor.

Yeast extract – Yeast extract is the inner contents of yeast cells that remain after the cell walls have been removed. Because yeast extract contains a lot of free glutamate, it can be used to add umami flavor to food.

Inosinate – Inosinate is a ribonucleotide that is naturally found in meat and fish. It has an umami flavor. It is sometimes used with MSG to enhance the umami flavor, and is often used in conjunction with guanylate, another ribonucleotide. Combining ingredients rich in free glutamate with those rich in guanylate or inosinate enhances umami significantly.

Guanylate – Guanylate is a ribonucleotide that is naturally found in mushrooms. It has an umami flavor. It is frequently used in conjunction with MSG and inosinate to enhance umami flavor.

Ribonucleotides – Disodium 5’-ribonucleotides is a mixture of disodium inosinate and disodium guanylate that enhances umami flavor when used with MSG. The mix of ribonucleotides and MSG work together to allow umami flavor to be sensed more strongly than if each of the ingredients were used individually.

Theresa is a dietitian in private practice who specializes in GI disorders and food allergies and intolerances. She is passionate about making nutrition fit within the constraints of the real world. Theresa previously spent years coaching heart patients at Emory University Hospital Midtown through lifestyle changes as well as teaching students at Oregon State University and Georgia State University the basics of nutrition. Read more about her background on the About page. Note: MSGdish bloggers are compensated for their time in writing for MSGdish, but their statements and opinions are their own. They have pledged to blog with integrity, asserting that the trust of their readers and their peers is vitally important to them.

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