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MSG. Unami, The 5th Taste, Am I opening pandoras box?

Personally I dont mind a little MSG..some love it some hate it. What do you think? What foods to they add it to besides Chinese Takeout? I always read NO MSG on their menu yet look in ther kitchen and 2/3rds of the time I can spto it from the front counter!

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  1. MSG gives me insomnia. At least I think it does. Anchovies, fish sauce and mushrooms are other sources of unami.

      1. There have recently(within the past month) been two or three threads rehashing MSG and umami. My reductive take is that fear of MSG is overblown. People that complain about MSG in Chinese food happily down canned/convenience products that contain MSG. Not to mention, that inscrutable flavor *umami*, is found in many, many foods humans consume beginning with mother's milk.

        2 Replies
        1. re: aelph

          " ... umami is ... imparted by glutamate and ribonucleotides, including inosinate and guanylate, which occur naturally in many foods including meat, fish, vegetables and dairy products."


          Some umami-rich foods:

          Chinese cabbage
          enokitake mushrooms
          green tea
          parmesan cheese
          sea bream
          shiitake mushrooms
          soy beans
          sweet potatoes

          1. re: aelph

            I agree. MSG or "natural seasoning" is used in just about every processed food and widely used in many restaurants, not just Chinese with the big exception of fine dining, home cooking and haute cuisine.

            The difference is that in Chinese cooking w/ super hot woks, MSG explodes in the oil and makes a chamical change...and thus it often tastes stronger.

          2. This may be a tangent, but I've wondered if "rotten" or "decaying" is a fifth taste. If I get rotten meat, and someone asks, is it too sweet, or too sour, or too salty, or too bitter? I'd reply no, it's just rotten. Certainly it can give a whole new dimension to food, as many countries' cooks know. Consider Thai nam pla, Vietnamese nuoc mam, Malayan Chinese belacan, Indonesian trassi, or garam, which was wildly popular in ancient Rome.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Brian S

              With fish sauce, you're tasting "fermented" + "umami".

              1. re: Das Ubergeek

                Run-of-the-mill nuoc mam/nam pla doesn't taste "rotten." It may *smell* decayed...but, the flavor is a complex, meaty, umami :), savoriness.

                1. re: aelph

                  I've read an article (thanks to this board) that says that if you cook it, nam pla's flavor is totally transformed; it's used in many top San Francisco restaurants. But I dont know how to cook it, I just throw it on rice. I like the flavor, rotten or not.

            2. I love MSG.

              I sprinkle Accent on my chili fries all the time ... guacamole, as well.

              1. Check out the book "It Must Have Been Something I Ate" by Jeffrey Steingarten. There is a piece in there called "Do People in China Have Headaches" or something like that. The entire article is about the whole MSG scare and how the only way it can really hurt someone is if they ate straight MSG and a lot of it on an empty stomach. It includes experiments/research on the issue, and as always, Steingarten does a great job of making you see right through this food myth. It should answer most of your questions.

                1. I've heard that it's all nonsense and am willing to believe it. I don't get headaches but I have stayed awake all night three different times after eating Chinese food. Is it all in my imagination? And no, I hadn't had tea or coffee and I don't usually have trouble sleeping.

                  1. I think some people have less tolerance for MSG. My friend doesn't usually eat heavy-MSG-laden food, but one evening after an especially oily, salty Chinese dinner, she almost fell asleep at the wheel and ran over a street divider. She's also felt sleepy after only similar Chinese meals.

                    1. I basically sneaked into China in 1981. Independent travelers weren't allowed. It was in effect the tail end of the cultural revolution, and stores were pretty bare. But guess what powder was for sale everywhere in huge bags??