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Jun 16, 2009 01:37 PM

Cooking With MSG?

I am a reporter with The Associated Press hoping to speak to home cooks who use MSG in some of their dishes. The story touches on how many people still use MSG for flavor despite decades of demonization. I'd appreciate hearing about what dishes you add MSG to and how it affects the flavor.
Many thanks,
Michael Hill
Associated Press

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  1. I use MSG in many Asian dishes; some recipes even call specifically for it.

    There are some people allegic to it, and, of course, they shouldn't use it. But I see no reason why others should not. It is a normal ingreedient and, like, say, soy sauce, has been so for hundreds of years.

    I think the whole campaign against it is just an offshoot of the yuppie slogan, "if it feels bad, do it." For instance, the chain of Chinese take-out food that advertises that the mere mention of MSG throws its chefs into a frenzy. Really? Can you picture an Italian chef going into a frenzy because someone said "oregano"?

    2 Replies
    1. re: ekammin

      I also use MSG when I cook for myself and my family because I like the added flavor but I never use it when cooking for others because they might have a reaction or they might be of the idea that it is unhealthy so it is easier to leave it out then to attempt to convince them otherwise.

      1. re: ekammin

        Sorry, this is sort of a pet peeve of mine. There's just so much misinformation out there that I feel the irresistible urge to try to set the record straight.

        >>"There are some people allegic to it"<<

        Actually, if you use the technical definition of allergy (an IgE-mediated immune reaction) there are no documented cases of allergic reaction to MSG. Moreover, placebo-controlled double-blind studies have been unable to establish that those individuals who claim to be sensitive to the substance can detect it in food. Some of those who ingest MSG claim to have a response, but the alleged response rate is about the same as among those who ingest a placebo.

        >>"It is a normal ingreedient and, like, say, soy sauce, has been so for hundreds of years."<<

        Well, that's not quite correct either. While glutamates have existed as long as there's been food, MSG was first isolated in 1907.

        As to the comparison between MSG and oregano, oregano is an ingredient. It has flavor. MSG is a flavor enhancer; it merely intensifies the flavors of other ingredients in a dish. I have no objection to its use, but find that many restaurants that use it do so as a shortcut; it's easier to put a spoonful of MSG into bland soup than to make a decent stock.

      2. I use it all the time.

        It's an essential ingredient in my cooking.

        Michael, you can contact me via e-mail (listed on my profile). Be happy to talk to you.

        1. Judging from what I've seen in groceries, Hispanic cooks use quite a bit of it, either directly or as part of a seasoning mix (esp.Goya brand). Many Japanese seasoning mixes are heavy on the msg - for example the common instant dashi soup base.

          While msg is present in many processed foods and seasoning mixes, I don't think it ever gained a significant foothold in meat-and-potatoes MidAmerica cooking. I have no phobia regarding it, but have never bought Accent, the main msg brand on the US market.

          1. I use it, with great discretion, in some of my cooking. It does wonderful things to the flavour of, for example, some green veggies (e.g., asparagus) and grains (e.g., kasha).

            MSG can, indeed, enhance the flavour of a weak stock, though I only use it for this is a last resort.

            Used to excess, my experience is that MSG ceases to enhance flavour and makes whatever it's in taste like MSG. It has a very distinctive taste on its own. Yes, poor "Chinese" restaurants have been especially bad abusers of MSG over time.

            Many people seem to have an irrational fear of this stuff and react psychologically - thus the studies (some of which I have seen) cited in another post. Not withstanding this, I am convinced, unequivocally, from personal experience, that some people are extremely sensitive to it. There's nothing unusual about this either, since any individual can have a verifiable, reproducible, blinded, idiosyncratic reaction to pretty much anything.

            So I'm on both sides of the fence. I feel MSG has gotten an undeserved bad rap and is harmless, in small quantities, for most people. However, I'm flabbergasted at the degree to which many people, invoking science, rigidly declaim that any reported reaction to it is some form of madness.

            I also feel that comparisons between the natural glutamates found in many foods and pure refined MSG are spurious. A plausible analogy might be comparing sugar cane juice with pure refined sugar. These things are obviously not the same.

            1. Its a key ingredient in a Sunday favourite at home - Khichi. Enhances the basic flavour of cumin and cooked flour and takes it to a whole different flavour level.
              The same base is then used to make a different kind of papadum from those normally seen at Indian restaurants.