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MSG [moved from Austin board]

Does anyone ever ask for "No Msg" when they go to an Asian restaurant? What is the deal with Msg anyway. I mean...is it like salt? Can they leave it out of your meal really? Is there a restaurant around that does not use it ever?

I hate asking.........but i'm pretty sure that it's what is making my lips numb.

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  1. Soy sauce contains a great deal of naturally occuring MSG.
    So if you ask to hold the MSG, ask to hold the soy sauce too.
    Pretty tough to do in an Asian joint.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Covert Ops

      Hmmm......soy sauce doesn't make my lips numb......I realize that Msg is naturally occurring in some foods. Maybe it's not the naturally occurring Msg that they use......

    2. msg is delicious and tastes great sprinkled on pickles

      if you are eating chinese and something is making your mouth numb, then you must be eating szechuan peppercorns

      5 Replies
      1. re: bitsubeats

        Never tried MSG on pickles but a little MSG in scrambled eggs make them great and super eggy tasting.

        1. re: KTinNYC

          its sooo good. I literally dip them in msg and its heavenly. I have weird food quirks

          1. re: bitsubeats

            Any particular kind of pickles? I'm going to try this.

            1. re: KTinNYC

              I just use generic store brand dill pickles (not the kosher ones)

              I use the whole pickles and sprinkle a whole bunch of msg on my plate and dip them into it. It makes the pickles really savory tasting

        2. re: bitsubeats

          At the start of Alton's episode on black pepper, there is a bit about the numbing caused by sechuan peppercorns. There's even a technical name for the effect. There probably is wiki article on the effect.

        3. MSG is present in many prepared foods, especially commercial soups and sauces. You can ask them not to add any *additional* MSG, which they can do without a problem. However, if MSG is already present in the soups, sauces, etc., there's not much they can do about it.

          I've never heard it making your lips numb. If you want to be certain, try a canned soup from your local supermarket. Odds are that it has MSG (check the label). If you can eat it without having your lips get numb, then MSG probably isn't the culprit.

          1. Many prepared foods and snacks contain MSG and no one seems to mind too much but when you bring up Chinese food you will hear howls of protest about too much MSG.

            My friend's wife claims to have an allergy to MSG but has no problem eating huge quantities of Doritos which are absolutely covered in MSG.

            2 Replies
            1. re: KTinNYC

              yep, i hear the same thing about msg. I hear that everyone thinks chinese food is loaded with msg and they get sick from it, yet they are fine when they eat parmasean cheese and packaged food products

              whatever, I'll take all the msg

              1. re: KTinNYC

                Please check out the CH threads already on MSG mentioned above for news about MSG "allergy."

              2. Hey!!! are all of you guys saying i'm crazy???


                Maybe my problem is that i don't eat processed food........Like Doritos and stuff.
                Maybe i'm too "sssssssssssensitive"
                Maybe i should toughen up and quit with the whining............already...........

                1. MSG is a flavor enhancer. In particular it makes meaty things taste even meatier. As such it is widely used in soup and soup bases.

                  You could test its effect at home. Accent is a common MSG based flavoring. If you can't find it in the regular spice section in the grocery, check the Mexican food section. If you really want to be sure, have a friend conduct a double-blind experiment on you.


                  1. Here's my unscientific guess about MSG and Chinese food...when MSG in granulated form hits a super hot wok with oil, it puffs up and changes a bit and it somehow more noticeable.

                    I'm guessing this because besides many processed food (i.e., natural flavors) using MSG, many restaurants use it too in different forms and you don't hear the same ranting and raving. I could be very wrong and I accept that but that's the only thing I've noticed that might change things.

                    Other then that, I don't doubt people are sensitive to MSG but I also think there's a bit of xenophobia in the assumption it's only Chinese restaurants.

                    1. If tomatoes and parmesan cheese, for instance, don't make your lips numb, you're probably not unusually sensitive to it. If your only suspected reaction is numb lips and you're not getting nasty headaches or feeling unusually thirsty after the meal, I'd be inclined to think it's not the MSG.

                      You don't have other allergies, like to shellfish, do you?

                      1. as jeffrey steingarten wrote: "if msg is so bad for you, why don't 1 billion chinese people a headache?"

                        numb lips are not a usual complaint from those who claim sensitivity to msg.

                        15 Replies
                        1. re: hotoynoodle

                          Jeffrey Steingarten is an ass. MSG headaches are real. And one thing China doesn't have is thousands of awful Chinese-American restaurants that put too much MSG, salt and sugar in sauces and then drown everything in those sauces. Those billion Chinese people have never polished off a quart of "chicken in garlic sauce" drowning in a gloppy, gooey slurry of Karo and MSG.

                          1. re: hatless

                            Hatless, can you point to any published, peer reviewed, paper proving a real allergy to MSG? I've never seen one and I would be interested to read such research.

                            1. re: KTinNYC

                              Did I use the word allergy there? What is it with MSG denialists? Further up I did suggest that the OP, if s/he isn't feeling dehydrated by whatever's leaving that numb, puffy feeling, consider the possibility that their symptom is due to an allergy to something else, like, say, shellfish. (If I had a dollar for every vegetarian who eats kimchi unquestioningly, or just asks for no shrimp in their pad thai...)

                              Eating lots of food with way too much salt is going to leave you feeling thirsty, dehydrated and crappy. So does eating food with way too much MSG. Why is that controversial? One difference is that Americans can easily tell when something's got way too much salt. Unless you know what too much MSG tastes like and feels like in your mouth -- and many Americans don't, doubly so when the dish isn't entirely familiar -- it's easy to go right on packing it in.

                            2. re: hatless

                              not trying to be rude, but are you saying that chinese people in china don't cook with msg?

                              they do cook with msg and I know for a fact that koreans in korea cook with msg as well.

                              1. re: bitsubeats

                                I said no such thing. Read it again. I said that in China, it's pretty darned likely a lot less of it is consumed in a typical meal, both because of the smaller portions of sauced foods eaten on average, less sauce on that food, and sauces that are less heavy than the muck poured over everything in the typical Chinese-American takeout.

                                And come to think of it, I'd imagine Chinese and Koreans, having eaten given dishes with MSG all their lives, are more likely to pick up on when the cook put too much in and adjust how much they eat accordingly, just as one might when given a plate of something with way too much salt..

                                1. re: hatless

                                  Just a note about Koreans - they probably get MSG in much higher doses in a home prepared meal than what is present in American Chinese rest meals,
                                  given that MSG is present in any soy based sauce as well as in fermented foods (Korean meals include a lot of fermented dishes).

                                  1. re: hannaone

                                    yeah and you all should see how much msg my grandmother sprinkles into her kong namul. Once I saw her do 10 dashes - even that was a bit much for me...but I didn't get a headache. It was delicious! grandmas know best (:

                              2. re: hatless

                                If MSG headaches are real, why can't they be reliably reproduced in controlled, double-blind placebo-controlled studies?

                                1. re: alanbarnes

                                  You have to realize that these studies don't prove anything either way, they only "suggest". There have been no long term studies done that take into account all the factors of "daily living" that may contribute to the "MSG syndrome".
                                  The headaches some people suffer are real. ALL contributing factors are murky at best.

                                  1. re: hannaone

                                    Agreed. Headaches are real, but a cause-and-effect relationship is difficult to establish in anything as complex as the human organism. My complaint is that many MSG-phobes (including my dear wife) are all too ready to jump to conclusions about causation without considering other factors of daily living.

                                    Ah, well, at least it has taught me to make good Chinese food at home...

                                  2. re: alanbarnes

                                    Maybe they're not giving the subjects enough of it. For instance, "bitsubeats" below experimented by eating a teaspoon of it straight. Once when I was a newbie to mild Korean soups, I spooned several times that - well over a tablespoon -- of the stuff into a bowl of sool long tang. A nasty, hours-long headache and the guzzling of a half gallon of water ensued.

                                    Flash forward almost 15 years to last summer, when I had a bowl of khash, a bland Armenian soup of skin and cartilage. It came with a bowl of a mysterious white powder to spoon in. The waitress said it was salt. I kept adding it to try to puncture the soup's austere blandness. I must have put a couple of tablespoons in before figuring out -- from the slick mouthfeel -- that it was MSG. I stopped eating it, but again, spent the hours that followed with a nasty headache, chugging bottles of water.

                                    Two years ago I went for dim sum. The char siu pork buns were very nice, but the meat had an unusually slick coating we noted at the time. Yup. We spent the afternoon drinking water and napping off headaches. Same thing used to happen when I was growing up and we'd get takeout from certain neighborhood chow mein joints.

                                    I agree that MSG used sparingly is a great seasoning. I'm not talking about sparing use here. I'm talking about what happens when far too much of it ends up in a single meal.

                                    1. re: hatless

                                      a couple of tablespoons of msg!!!!!! holy moly that is a lot...especially since you thought it was salt

                                      1. re: bitsubeats

                                        Sure is. Khash is among the most aggressively bland dishes ever made: by tradition it is cooked with no seasonings of any kind: just a bunch of cartilaginous animal parts simmered for hours. It's then served with a variety of add-ins: salt, pepper, raw garlic, vinegar, herbs... all of which accomplish very little, so formidable is its blandness.

                                        So there you are thinking you're salting it, the waitress says it's salt, and yet it remains bland until you figure out why it wasn't getting salty... :)

                                        1. re: hatless

                                          that soup sounds a lot like seollangtang in that its mainly boiled bones and meat and you add add ins like salt, pepper, gochugaru, garlic, and green onion. sounds like I'd like it.

                                          1. re: bitsubeats

                                            What's fascinating is that the two could conceivably be directly related despite the vast distance between Korea and Armenia, thanks, perhaps, to Genghis Khan or the Silk Road. Maybe an ancestor of both dishes traveled the same route as the Northern-Chinese-ish dumplings called "manti" as far west as Turkey and Armenia . I'm sure someone has looked into this and made a Ph.D. of it one way or the other already. I'll have to look into it one of these days.

                              3. MSG is in almost everything. Tomato, potato, milk, fermented foods, broths, stocks, meats, medicine, diet products, soap, shampoo, gelatin, any soy based sauce, low fat milk products, some cheeses, seaweed, barley malt, etc, etc, etc.

                                While MSG reactions do sometimes occur, it is most likely that it is from overdose from multiple sources and NOT any single source..

                                Here are some links to some studies. Make of them what you will
                                The most often quoted (from what I've seen) recent study:

                                Lists a large number of MSG studies available on-line

                                7 Replies
                                1. re: hannaone

                                  Not exactly.

                                  Monosodium glutamate is the sodium salt of glutamate, or glutamic acid (an amino acid).
                                  However, it is glutamates, not MSG, that are present in chicken, duck, beef, pork, fish, cheese, peas, corn and tomatoes, none of which have any added monosodium glutamate.

                                  If you are sensitive to MSG, you would have an extremely difficult time eating any of these foods, as the body cannot differentiate between added MSG and naturally occurring glutamates.

                                  According to the International Food Information Council, we eat 11 parts naturally occurring glutamates to one part monosodium glutamate each day.

                                  MSG and glutamates are not allergens, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, and will not show up on any allergy test.

                                  So the headaches? They're caused by something else, or a combination of other factors: other foods, non-food or seasonal allergies, hormones, or many other factors. Dehydration often causes headaches, whether the dehydration is a result of biological factors, heat, workouts, or excessive salt. The sodium of MSG can aid in dehydration, but it would be the dehyrdation causing the headache, not the MSG per se.

                                  And the numb lips? Not caused by MSG, but a substance called herculin in the Szechuan peppercorns. Been identified and proven for some time. There's even a Chow Digest article that refers to this numbing effect at

                                  Many thanks for the research links, hannaone.

                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                    I just didn't want to get into a detailed breakdown of the sodium and glutamic acid content of the foods and how they combine or separate in different processes. (grin)
                                    I am guilty of using the common mis-usage of "MSG" as an all inclusive reference.

                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                      for many years, and until 2004, true szechuan peppercorns were illegal in the states. they were potential carriers of a citrus canker. so if the op has had this side-effect for years, it's not from that.

                                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                                        They may have been illegal but I was always able to find them in markets so I think restaurants would be able to get them also.

                                        1. re: KTinNYC

                                          from what i read, they never were pulled off shelves. warehouses no doubt continued to ship them, even though the packets might have been several years old. far less than "fresh".

                                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                                            I think you are right. The peppercorns were never as potent as they should have been.

                                      2. re: maria lorraine

                                        Perhaps we eat 11 parts naturally occurring glutamate to MSG, but this doesn't factor in the increased glutamate we get from other very common additives (that are probably surpassing MSG in popularity as they're not generally recognized to contain glutamate and many people actively try to avoid MSG) such as autolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed proteins, modified starches, etc. If you add up all the extra glutamate from those sources, I'd bet that it ends up being a significant increase in consumption.

                                    2. maybe I will do an experiment

                                      I will eat a teaspoon of msg and tell you all what happens

                                      plain by itself

                                      5 Replies
                                      1. re: bitsubeats

                                        that was freakin nasty. i had to finish it with a few slices of dill pickle. I'll post what happens later on.

                                        1. re: bitsubeats

                                          I'd say you need to drink a bunch of water to ensure that you aren't getting a headache from dehydration...

                                          1. re: mojoeater

                                            I didn't get a headache, if anyone cared (probably not)

                                              1. re: KTinNYC

                                                Except for the few people whom it affects adversely, there's nothing wrong with MSG. It's been used in Asian cooking for centuries.

                                                After all, some people are allergic to eggs. That's no reason that others shouldn't eat them.

                                                My own theory is that some dyspeptic yuppie, following the yuppie principle of "If it feels bad, do it" one day proclaimed that all MSG is bad, in anything. And people believed him/her.