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Ordering food without MSG

Well, whattaya know? I finally *think* I've identified that I have an aversion to or intolerance for MSG. I am NOT blaming it on Chinese food, but after I eat it, I notice the main symptoms and feel awful; I've tried to order a different dish each time we get take-out, just to make sure (this is an aversion that has only come on in the past year or so). I'm still not blaming it on MSG, because now I'm keeping a food journal to document what I eat and when I feel the "symptoms" (dizziness, headache, head feeling like it's going to explode and implode all at once, general pressure in the head, and some congestion and tightening in the neck).

My question is:
How do I specify no MSG? This sounds like a ridiculous question, I'm sure, but I just don't know if it's pretty much a given that MSG will be in certain foods in my favorite Asian dishes (yes, it's a huge stereotype from the '80s and '90s, but it's also a fact). My favorite Thai dish from a local place remains "Vegetable and Tofu with MSG!" (it says that on the menu). So, as I said, the MSG and the cuisines themselves are not yet to blame. Is MSG added in a powder or granule form, that would make it easy to leave out? Is it reasonable to ask for MSG-free?

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  1. You have to do it to save yourself. My MSG intolerance has only gotten worse.
    Last time I ingested it was at a neighborhood joint - who would have thought stewed chicken was going to have MSG in it. Thank God I only ate half the portion. Five min after leaving the restaurant I was walking into a paint store. I felt strange getting out of the car & thought I was just tired. Next thing I know I am going thru the door and just about passed out cold. My symptoms are the same as yours and also I feel nauseous.
    Only for me, it doesn't go away pronto. It took me about six weeks to feel right again.

    Personnally, I don't eat Chinese food anymore. Unless I absolutely know they have no MSG. Stay away from the soup. And that red pork.

    You have to tell them it will make you really, really sick for a while and that you absolutely cannot have it. I do not take any chances and it is not only Chinese food . . . be careful!

    1. Around where I live many of the Asian restaurants tout the fact that they don't use MSG. I don't know where you're from, but that would be the answer, no?

      Otherwise, most Asian restaurants make the sauces up ahead of time for the day or night. If it is a place that uses MSG, it's in the sauce and you can't get it out. BTW: the usable form of MSG is powder/granule.

      Of course, there are probably other Asian places that make the sauces to order, so you just request to not have it.

      Also, MSG is in a LOT of different foods, not just Asian ones.

      1. If you have that type of reaction to MSG, you should also be on the lookout for yeast extract. Many places say they don't use MSG (ahem...PF Chang's...), but they use yeast extract as a substitute. I never had a problem with MSG, but the few times I ate at PF Chang's I had the same reaction you described. After mentioning it to a friend, she told me that it was probably from yeast extract.

        PF Chang's refuses to confirm or deny their use of yeast extract and will only say that their food is made with "all natural" products.

        1. It's reasonable to ask but sometimes MSG is added during prep. I worked for an Italian chain (10+ years ago now) that put MSG in the water they used to rinse lettuce. (Badda boom badda bing)

          1. for some of the asian restaurants it is hard to avoid the msg if they are using soy sauce in any of their food. because msg is naturally forming in soy sauce. so that is pretty much what i tell all of our customers when they ask if we add/use msg in any of our food.

            1. The MSG I've seen is comprised of small crystalline modules. They can be added or not added during cooking. That, however, is the least of your worries. MSG is often added to stock and sauces (not just in Asian restaurants). Thus, it is also usually present in soups. To eliminate MSG entirely, you need to know which sauces do not use MSG, and you need to be certain that the stock used in the kitchen is also free of MSG.

              MSG is present in many, many prepared products (e.g. canned soup, sauces, etc.) purchased at the supermarket. You can try small portions of these. If you are truly intolerant of MSG, you'll have a reaction.

              I'm not saying you aren't allergic to MSG. It's just that I've known others who said they were allergic to MSG but still ate prepacked supermarket products that were laden with MSG and had no reaction.

              2 Replies
              1. re: raytamsgv

                True. You have to be extremely vigilent not to ingest MSG and it's many, many derivatives (hydrolyzed yeast, etc) in practically any meal you eat that contains canned or frozen food or food prepared by a restaurant.

                Chinese food would be the least of your everyday worries, seems to me.

                1. re: C. Hamster

                  Chinese food is the most of my worries. They add MSG and that is the kind that I am sensitive too, not the naturally occurring ones in tomatoes, mushrooms, nuts etc. Same for aspartame. My body just can't handle it.

                  Some Mexican restaurants use it too. I have to be extremely vigilant in ordering food, and basically never order soup unless I know there is no prepackaged stock being used. Chicken soup stock or soup base is a major culprit. I do stay away from soy sauce too.

                  And aspartame. Has the same exact effect on me, but of course, larger doses of MSG are more common.

              2. While a restaurant may not add MSG to their dishes, it is still naturally-occurring in fermented soy products. So if you are sure you have an aversion to it, you pretty much have to avoid all foods made or accented with soy sauce. Glutamates are also in mushrooms, tomatoes, nuts, and many other natural foods.

                Many Chinese restaurants that say "No MSG" mean that they do not have a shaker of it in the kitchen, adding it whenever they choose. But they cannot remove it if it is already within an ingredient. And there are many different names for what is essentially the same thing. Check out this list of ingredients to watch out for:

                1 Reply
                1. re: mojoeater

                  If you really are MSG intolerant, then good luck to you in finding places that don't use it. However, it is unreasonable to expect all Asian restaurants to avoid it - it is a valid ingredient in many dishes, and has been for hundreds of years. Those of us who are not bothered by it should be able to enjoy food made with it - that is why, when I see a restaurant advertising "No MSG" in the window, I walk right on past it.