Monosodium glutamate — more commonly known as MSG, may very well be the comeback kid of the spice rack, having claimed a presence in headlines across America.
Perhaps the most important piece of information these articles have in common is that they get to the root of the issue: MSG is misunderstood. A recent Buzzfeed article noted, “After decades of research debunking its reputation as a health hazard, and uninterrupted FDA approval since 1959, MSG remains a food pariah — part of a story that spans a century of history, race, culture, and science and says more about how we eat today than any other.”
One of the reasons for MSG’s comeback is that Americans are increasingly interested in food and what we put in our bodies. In addition, the “foodie culture” has made its way mainstream and a, let’s say, “seasoned” palate is one worth bragging about. If you’re riding the umami wave (umami is the famed fifth taste that is derived by glutamate), you are definitely in vogue.
Cooking with MSG
So what’s next? Recently I’ve received a lot of questions related to cooking with MSG, which is a welcome shift from safety-related questions. MSG acts as a flavor enhancer, and is the purest form of the umami – or savory taste. To draw a comparison, it’s the equivalent of choosing between sugar and honey to sweeten something. If honey is used, you get the sweetness plus additional flavor profiles that may or may not be desirable in a given recipe. The same with umami. For example, I could add soy sauce to a recipe, but alter the taste with additional flavor profiles. By using MSG, I’m simply putting in that pure umami sensation.
When using MSG, the rule of thumb to follow is that a little goes a long way. About one-half teaspoon of MSG per one pound of meat such as beef, chicken or pork should be sufficient to enhance the flavor. The same one-half teaspoon rule applies to vegetable dishes, soups and casseroles. One of the benefits of MSG is that it actually reduces the amount of sodium content in a recipe by up to 40% with no loss in palatability, as MSG has two-thirds less sodium than table salt. This is why MSG is often a key ingredient for people on a low-sodium diet, because it boosts the flavor of a dish while reducing the need for salt.
Whether you like it or not, chances are that you’ve eaten MSG and you’ll eat it again. How could that be? Because MSG is safe and, simply put, it makes food taste better. If you try it in the kitchen, us bloggers at MSGdish would love to hear your recipes and welcome any feedback.
Join Chef Chris Koetke in the kitchen for a detailed explanation of the role of MSG and umami in foods: