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MSG [moved from Austin board]

scoutaustin Jun 27, 2007 12:08 PM

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. Covert Ops RE: scoutaustin Jun 27, 2007 12:15 PM

    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
      scoutaustin RE: Covert Ops Jun 27, 2007 12:26 PM

      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......

      1. re: scoutaustin
        maria lorraine RE: scoutaustin Jun 28, 2007 01:16 AM

        Current threads on MSG where you'll find lots of answers.
        and here

    2. bitsubeats RE: scoutaustin Jun 27, 2007 12:36 PM

      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
        KTinNYC RE: bitsubeats Jun 27, 2007 02:17 PM

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

        1. re: KTinNYC
          bitsubeats RE: KTinNYC Jun 27, 2007 02:18 PM

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

          1. re: bitsubeats
            KTinNYC RE: bitsubeats Jun 27, 2007 02:33 PM

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

            1. re: KTinNYC
              bitsubeats RE: KTinNYC Jun 27, 2007 02:51 PM

              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
          paulj RE: bitsubeats Jun 28, 2007 09:53 AM

          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. raytamsgv RE: scoutaustin Jun 27, 2007 02:01 PM

          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. k
            KTinNYC RE: scoutaustin Jun 27, 2007 02:16 PM

            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
              bitsubeats RE: KTinNYC Jun 27, 2007 02:21 PM

              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
                maria lorraine RE: KTinNYC Jun 28, 2007 01:21 AM

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

              2. s
                scoutaustin RE: scoutaustin Jun 27, 2007 04:07 PM

                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. paulj RE: scoutaustin Jun 27, 2007 09:12 PM

                  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. m
                    ML8000 RE: scoutaustin Jun 28, 2007 02:52 AM

                    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. hatless RE: scoutaustin Jun 28, 2007 05:09 AM

                      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. hotoynoodle RE: scoutaustin Jun 28, 2007 07:41 AM

                        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
                          hatless RE: hotoynoodle Jun 28, 2007 07:58 AM

                          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
                            KTinNYC RE: hatless Jun 28, 2007 08:36 AM

                            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
                              hatless RE: KTinNYC Jun 28, 2007 09:22 AM

                              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
                              bitsubeats RE: hatless Jun 28, 2007 08:40 AM

                              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
                                hatless RE: bitsubeats Jun 28, 2007 09:12 AM

                                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
                                  hannaone RE: hatless Jun 28, 2007 09:41 AM

                                  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
                                    bitsubeats RE: hannaone Jun 28, 2007 10:07 AM

                                    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
                                alanbarnes RE: hatless Jun 28, 2007 10:17 AM

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

                                1. re: alanbarnes
                                  hannaone RE: alanbarnes Jun 28, 2007 10:33 AM

                                  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
                                    alanbarnes RE: hannaone Jun 28, 2007 10:37 AM

                                    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
                                    hatless RE: alanbarnes Jun 28, 2007 10:53 AM

                                    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
                                      bitsubeats RE: hatless Jun 28, 2007 11:07 AM

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

                                      1. re: bitsubeats
                                        hatless RE: bitsubeats Jun 28, 2007 11:25 AM

                                        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
                                          bitsubeats RE: hatless Jun 28, 2007 11:35 AM

                                          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
                                            hatless RE: bitsubeats Jun 28, 2007 12:07 PM

                                            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. hannaone RE: scoutaustin Jun 28, 2007 09:29 AM

                                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
                                  maria lorraine RE: hannaone Jun 28, 2007 03:40 PM

                                  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
                                    hannaone RE: maria lorraine Jun 28, 2007 04:49 PM

                                    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
                                      hotoynoodle RE: maria lorraine Jul 4, 2007 07:23 AM

                                      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
                                        KTinNYC RE: hotoynoodle Jul 4, 2007 09:31 AM

                                        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
                                          hotoynoodle RE: KTinNYC Jul 4, 2007 09:38 AM

                                          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
                                            KTinNYC RE: hotoynoodle Jul 4, 2007 02:44 PM

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

                                      2. re: maria lorraine
                                        vorpal RE: maria lorraine Jul 19, 2007 11:36 AM

                                        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. bitsubeats RE: scoutaustin Jun 28, 2007 10:08 AM

                                      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
                                        bitsubeats RE: bitsubeats Jun 28, 2007 10:13 AM

                                        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
                                          mojoeater RE: bitsubeats Jun 29, 2007 08:42 PM

                                          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
                                            bitsubeats RE: mojoeater Jul 5, 2007 10:23 AM

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

                                            1. re: bitsubeats
                                              KTinNYC RE: bitsubeats Jul 6, 2007 09:20 PM

                                              I was pretty sure you woundn't

                                              1. re: KTinNYC
                                                ekammin RE: KTinNYC Jul 19, 2007 08:12 PM

                                                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.

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