Using MSG in home cooking
I've been intrigued by some recent news that I've read and heard about Umami as well as MSG. I don't suffer from any allergy to MSG, so I'm interested in trying to use it in some of my cooking. Does anyone have any advice on how best to incorporate MSG into recipes or foods? I’m curious about quantity, when to add it, what ingredients match best, what doesn’t? Really, any info would be great.
Just sprinkle some in when you feel like a dish is "flat" or lacking something.
For instance, one place I often use MSG is when I'm making guacamole, and the avocados aren't perfectly ripe or lack flavor.
I don't really have recipes that call for it -- it's more of a flavor enhancer, used in addition to (or in place of) salt to properly season a dish, like if you taste a dish and it's not really salt it needs, but something else you can't put your finger on.
I don't really measure, just sprinkle some in -- probably less than a 1/2 tsp.
I don't use very often, but I like to use a little in eggs, seems to boost up the flavor and also, of course in the Asian food I make. Like Dana said, it takes very little, but does enhance the flavor of a dish that's just a bit blah. Watch out tho, too much and your dish can be ruined.
It helps to understand which foods already have a large amount of naturally occurring MSG (free glutamates). Soy sauce, parmesan and tomato paste are high on the list. Concentrated broth/stock has quite a bit of umami. If I'm making, say, lasagna, with a tomato paste based sauce and cheese filling with a hefty dose of Parmigiano Reggiano, I won't add MSG. Because I use parm in most of my Italian cooking, I find MSG unnecessary. If I'm making a soy sauce based dish, I don't add MSG either. In Asia, they seem to have no problem combining soy sauce and MSG, but to me, that's overkill. When you start combining rich sources of free glutamates, it's very easy to enter the 'in your face' realm of Cool Ranch Doritos. I love Doritos, but I don't want that much of a kick in everyday food. Besides, MSG has a way of magnifying saltiness, so if you start off with salty soy sauce, adding MSG will send the perceived saltiness through the roof.
So, as a general rule, if I'm working with tomato paste, soy sauce or parm, I don't add MSG.
MSG is incredibly powerful stuff. If you start comparing the free glutamates in soy sauce and parm to pure MSG, the equivalent amount of MSG is minuscule. A little goes a long way. Dash (1/8 t.), pinch (1/16 t.) and smidgeon (1/32 t.) measuring spoons are invaluable for measuring it. For instance, when I make 8 quarts of chili, I still only add 1/4 t.
Speaking of chili... TexMex cuisine is where MSG really shines. I'd never make chili without it. Same thing for taco seasoning. Refried beans. Maybe it has a particular synergy with cumin. Whatever the reason, it's amazing in TexMex cuisine. I've also noticed that anything with MSG goes very well with sour cream.
Next on the list is probably Cajun. It's phenomenal in gumbo and jambalaya.
Maybe it's because I'm conditioned by the Indian restaurants I frequent, but it seems MSG works wonderfully in Indian food. Dal, saag, chicken tikka masala, kofta, aloo gobi- you name it.
Fish sauce has plenty of free glutamates/salt, so I generally avoid adding MSG to Thai curries.
There are certain ingredients that cross cultural boundaries. Anytime I work with beans, I add MSG. Chicken seems to marry well with it. As long as it's not Chicken parm or Chicken with Garlic Sauce, I usually add some MSG to most chicken dishes. Gravy/pan drippings are a concentrated source of glutamates so I generally don't add MSG to gravies/pan sauces. I do usually enrich my gravies/sauces with reduced stock, though, so it's usually leaning toward umami overkill already.
It's great in Arroz con Pollo.
The water in soup, and, to a lesser extent, stews, dilutes flavor, making MSG ideal for those applications. Be careful with the salt content, though.
Lastly, if you're adding commercial products to your dishes, you want to be aware of the ingredients. A lot of products contain MSG and it's not always called by that name.
Plant Protein Extract
are just a few of the names it's hidden under. 'Natural flavoring' can often be a form of free glutamates/MSG. If you're adding a product with a lot of salt and/or added MSG to a dish, you probably don't want to add more MSG to the mix.
If you have an Asian or a Latino grocer in your vicinity, get your MSG there, as it will be a fraction of the cost of accent. Accent is a rip off.
Go to Walmart (or Williams Sonoma, depending on your budget), buy dash/pinch/smidgeon measuring spoons. Start off my adding a smidgeon at a time to dishes. Add it before you start adding salt. The more you cook with it, the easier it will be to detect/adjust according to your taste.
I heard that there are 2 kinds of MSG used - natural occuring, which sounds like what you've described, and the synethetic (?) kind - and the difference lies in the direction in which the chemical chain moves (not a science person, so this is what I remember). I'm hugely sensitive to the additive kind (dry mouth, bad headaches), so I sympathize with the allergic etc. (and why I was fascinated with the topic). But I also grew up in an asian household with a mom who's an incredible cook, so for those dishes that need a little "somethin' somethin'" - there are always natural alternatives that can enhance the flavor. I can respect other people's choice to use (and capability to eat) it, but I'd like to advocate that people TRY NATURAL (ingredients) FIRST!!! :)
I agree about not adding msg if you are adding soy sauce, or wakame (or any other seaweed) for that matter. I add it to some vegetable dishes like when I'm making banchan (korean side dishes). I litterally add a dash (one flick of the wrist) when adding to dishes...don't add too much because it gets to be overpowering. I buy ajinomoto brand msg from my local asian grocer. It's super cheap and Ive had the same bottle for over 2 years.
gross fact about me: I like to take dill pickles and liberally dip them in msg, it tastes better than it sounds
Thanks for the awesome responses. I tried it for the first time last night - on some baby bok choy that I unfortunately undercooked by about a minute - and wow, it totally smoothed out and enhanced the flavor. It was a stir fry, so the MSG was going into a dish that already had a good deal of soy sauce. Though I can see why one might not want to over mix the two, it was also clear that they played well together.
Again, thanks for the tips. After my experience last night, it seems pretty clear that adding a little MSG can really boost a dish. With the help of these tips it should be fun to do some culinary experimenting.
very insightful........i had no idea msg came under all those names. I must admit I was an msg-phobe only because i've always heard "it is bad for you". Obviously I have eaten it unknowingly regardless. . . . so how bad can it be. . . .
I am gonna go grab a big bag of ketchup chips full of msg . . . . something I have deprived myself of for awhile . . . . simply to avoid msg . . . .
maybe i'll take a bigger leap one day and start using it in my cooking.
This is more of a general comment re: MSG from someone who suffers severely when ingesting it as it is hidden in many ingredients. I take a lot of effort to avoid it at all costs. It can cause some to go to the emergency room - and they may NOT know why! Read this CNN article:
No, a reaction to MSG (or other additives, like nitrates/nitrites) isn't an "allergy", but it is vasoactive and it stimulates the nerves. Someone made a post here that a little pinch wouldn't cause a reaction, etc. If you haven't done any research on MSG or have any (known) reactions yourself, you should not make those kinds of statements. Although naturally occurring and not very well regulated in terms of labeling (MSG is known by many names). Please beware, not all people who suffer MSG toxicity KNOWS that is what they are reacting to. It took me over 15 YEARS to figure it out - because it is HIDDEN in so many things.
If you've done the research I have on MSG you would never add it to food you eat and would probably make an effort to avoid it whenever possible.
If we're looking at regulating transfats, we should also be looking at regulating MSG and other food additives. It all comes down to money, doesn't it?
Happy - and Healthy - eating!
re: Hungry Celeste
I'm 1/2 Chinese, and as a kid whenever we ate Chinese takeout my tongue would swell up hugely. I was taught to believe that that was the MSG at work. I haven't gone out for cheap Chinese food in years so I can't say whether I still get that reaction.
there's a chart on the wikipedia entry for MSG that lists foods that contain free and bound glutamates, its kind of interesting. Both European and Asian foods, mostly fermented ones, have a lot of free glutamates. Parmesan cheese is listed, which I find interesting because whenever I take a bite of it I get strange stinging/swelling sensations on my tongue and gums which I don't get when I eat soy sauce or miso paste.
Sure, MSG is natural, or has natural counterparts. DNA and genomes are also naturally abundant, but wierd things happen to all of these things in labs, so I say let each and all choose yea or nay based on her own tastes, sensations, and knowledge.
Great, an 8-year-old article that proves nothing. You’re right MSG is in many foods and many times it’s “hidden” and the fact is most people have no reaction. If MSG was so toxic wouldn’t there be mass outbreaks?
Could you please cite some scientifically peer reviewed articles from your extensive research proving “MSG toxicity syndrome”? If it exists, I'd love to see it. TIA.
You've piqued my interest.
A simple pubmed search led to this nice review article
If you have university library access, the full PDF article is a great read.
Essentially, the "MSG symptom complex" has very scant and shaky evidence that it even exists, although I have some patients (plus my mum!) who are convinced they are sensitive to MSG.
While I can't definitively rule out the cause and effect of MSG vs their symptoms, whatever it is I think it's likely harmless for the vast majority of people. The thirstiness experience by many after a chinese meal is likely due to the massive sodium load they got, rather than the minuscule amount contributed by MSG.
To that, I say drink more fluids/chinese tea!
MSG has gotten a bad rap because it was so overused, in large quantities, in restaurants, mainly Chinese, to cover up stale and rancid food.
When I took Chinese cooking lessons, we always used it, but in very small quantities. Never more than 1/4-1/2 tsp for 8 servings.
If you stick to the recommended serving size, it can enhance your dishes, and add only a small amount of sodium.