Salt plays an important role in enhancing and adding flavor to dishes. But, people with certain health conditions may need to be mindful of their sodium intake. Cutting back on the ingredient that adds flavor could mean bland food. But it doesn’t have to.
That is where MSG comes in.
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is an umami seasoning that has been enhancing the taste of food for over a hundred years. It is the sodium salt of glutamic acid, an amino acid found naturally in many foods. While MSG itself has sodium, it contains two-thirds less sodium than salt. That’s why using it in place of salt can lower the overall sodium content of food.
How It Works
MSG enhances the umami flavor of the foods to which it is added. Umami is a savory or meaty taste that adds depth and richness to food. It is one of the basic tastes alongside sweet, sour, salty, and bitter.
By enhancing the umami taste with a lower sodium seasoning, MSG allows for less salt to be used while maintaining a flavor that is well-liked.
Proof That It Works
Several research studies have shown how effective this strategy can be. Here is a summary of a few of them:
A study published in 2020 looked at the how much people liked four dishes (roasted vegetables, quinoa bowl, savory yogurt dip, and pork cauliflower fried rice) after some of the sodium in them had been replaced with MSG. Researchers found that tasters consistently described the versions of the dishes that had lower sodium because of the addition of MSG to be “delicious,” “flavorful,” and “balanced.”
Another study published in 2016 found that by adding MSG, it was possible to lower the sodium level of a soup without changing how delicious people found it to be. A different study published in 2023 found that substituting MSG for salt could allow the sodium in soups to be reduced by 18% while actually scoring higher in liking by taste testers.
An additional study published in 2020 found that by replacing some of the salt in a corn snack with MSG, the sodium content could be lowered to be below average of other commercially available snacks without affecting how much consumers liked it.
The Bottom Line
MSG can be used to reduce the sodium in foods while maintaining overall taste satisfaction. This is because MSG has less sodium than salt does. MSG also has the added bonus of contributing an umami flavor to the dish.
ICYMI: This video in the “Cooking with MSG” series: Great Taste with Less Salt
Sodium reduction is one of the clear benefits of MSG. MSG is the purest form of umami (savory taste), and is easy to incorporate into cooking. By using MSG, you can bring out the umami flavor in foods, and reduce dietary sodium by eating less salt – without sacrificing taste.