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Can you taste MSG in the food you are eating?

Kurtis Jan 18, 2011 02:16 PM

I can't.

For me, whenever I feel undeserved amount of thirst after the meal is when I think the possibility of having had food with MSG. Some people have described various unspecific symptoms such as headaches to numbness.

Can anyone describe the taste? Supertasters?

  1. pikawicca Jan 18, 2011 02:19 PM

    I can't taste it, but I know when it's there; I get a weird feeling on my tongue, kind of a tingling. Doesn't bother me, though.

    1. r
      racer x Jan 18, 2011 03:56 PM

      I can definitely recognize umami. Not sure that I can specifically tell when it is from msg as opposed to other sources, though.

      I don't experience any adverse effects from msg, as far as I know -- other than, maybe, eating more than I should and blowing my calorie count to hell.

      2 Replies
      1. re: racer x
        EWSflash Jan 18, 2011 04:24 PM


        1. re: racer x
          escondido123 Jan 18, 2011 04:24 PM

          As I was reading this post I noticed that in the right hand column there is a STORY "You're Not Allergic to MSG and 6 More Culinary Secrets." Interesting.

        2. alanbarnes Jan 18, 2011 05:58 PM

          >>"Some people have described various unspecific symptoms such as headaches to numbness."<<

          The interesting thing is that there are millions of people in the US who claim to be sensitive to MSG. But when they participate in double-blind tests, they have unspecific symptoms such as headaches to numbness in response to sugar pills at about the same rate as to MSG. The science has a long way to go, but IMO the weight of the research indicates that MSG reactions are entirely psychosomatic.

          Used in moderation, I belive MSG is undetectable. But you can definitely tell when a place is overusing it. The food has tremendous depth of flavor (umami) without much actual flavor. Like chicken bullion compared to good chicken broth. Not a good sign...

          12 Replies
          1. re: alanbarnes
            Steve Jan 18, 2011 06:37 PM

            This is almost certainly true, except for some very rare reactions.

            1. re: Steve
              alanbarnes Jan 18, 2011 06:55 PM

              I'm not saying that those "very rare reactions" don't exist. But it would be nice to see some decent studies to show that they do.

              1. re: alanbarnes
                Steve Jan 19, 2011 10:04 AM

                There was a VERY long thread here on Chowhound which mostly came to the conclusion that the MSG scare is malarky, but there was one article cited that explained the rare side effect that can occur. I don't remember which thread or article, but IIRC there was a link provided.

                1. re: Steve
                  DonShirer Jan 26, 2011 02:13 PM

                  The Food Examiner just ran a three part series on MSG which cited many scientific studies that said there was no adverse reactions despite scare tactics by some columnists. And it was pointed out that many common foods (broccoli !) contain MSG!

              2. re: Steve
                jgg13 Jan 19, 2011 09:37 AM

                The problem is (disclaimer, I'm making these numbers up), if 99.9% of people don't really have a reaction, 99.9% of people who feel they have reactions will claim they're part of the 0.01% who really do.

                1. re: jgg13
                  Steve Jan 19, 2011 10:07 AM

                  IIRC, the rare side effect is not a headache or anything niggling, but a severe reaction.

              3. re: alanbarnes
                Chowrin Jan 19, 2011 04:26 AM

                if you collapse at table, you eat too much MSG. Saw a waiter eat a tablespoon straight once. passed out straight up.

                "sensitivity" is... ahem... mostly bullshit. if you're also allergic to mushrooms, OTOH, you might look into it...

                1. re: Chowrin
                  joonjoon Jan 25, 2011 01:09 PM

                  I'm sorry but I'm calling BS on the waiter story. There's no reason MSG would cause someone to lose consciousness in that fashion.

                  1. re: joonjoon
                    pikawicca Jan 25, 2011 05:49 PM

                    Agree. Stupid hype.

                    1. re: pikawicca
                      Chowrin Jan 26, 2011 02:06 PM

                      read the wikipedia article. properties are well documented.

                      1. re: Chowrin
                        alanbarnes Jan 26, 2011 02:27 PM

                        Wikipedia? Seriously?

                        Okay, I'll play. Wikipedia says that "while large doses of MSG given without food may elicit more symptoms than a placebo in individuals who believe that they react adversely to MSG, the frequency of the responses was low and the responses reported were inconsistent, not reproducible, and not observed when MSG was given with food."

                        The magic words here are "not reproducible." That's kind of the opposite of "well documented."

                        1. re: alanbarnes
                          Chowrin Jan 26, 2011 08:08 PM

                          not saying "chinese restaurant syndrome" is well documented. its a piece of crap.

                          vasodilatory properties of glutamate are well documented, as is the ability of it to cause brain damage if consumed REALLY rapidly (it absorbs quickly) and in copious quantities (judging by rat testing). Of the two, I'd say the vasodilatory properties are much more likely to have cause the reaction. [as a sidenote, glutamate has also been implicated in seizures]

                          I am not a physician, and I'm sure one could probably give a better answer. I can read, however, and am incessantly curious. glad you're the same way!

              4. Cheese Boy Jan 18, 2011 07:00 PM

                Pho is *loaded* with MSG. After I add the thai basil, raw bean sprouts, sriracha, hoisin sauce, and a squeeze of lemon or lime, I have no clue what the MSG tastes like. Mission accomplished I suppose. If you're ever in a Thai restaurant, have them bring some over for you to taste so you can possibly identify it in other dishes or cuisines.

                Pho --> http://www.lovingpho.com/pho-ingredie...

                1 Reply
                1. re: Cheese Boy
                  c oliver Jan 19, 2011 07:13 AM

                  I made pho for the first time recently. NO MSG.

                2. ipsedixit Jan 18, 2011 07:39 PM

                  I can taste it.

                  It's called "flavor".

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: ipsedixit
                    Silverjay Jan 19, 2011 06:48 AM

                    It's not called "flavor". The sexy loan word for MSG, "umami", used in English, referring to "the 5th taste", is a "mouthfeel", not a "flavoring" or an actual "taste". In native Japanese, it means both "the 5th taste" like "mouthfeel" as well as just meaning "good taste" as a general description.

                    It's easiest to pick up umami (MSG) in soups, stews, and saucey things. But I have (in-law) relatives in Japan who sprinkle it on everything. MSG has nearly a completely nuetral flavor. Personally, I don't have any after effects like thirst or worse from eating MSG, but it can be very pronounced in very poorly prepared dishes when it is used as an additive. I had a black bean soup at a restaurant last week that I could tell with doused liberally with Ajinomoto or another MSG brand.

                    1. re: Silverjay
                      ipsedixit Jan 19, 2011 08:25 AM


                      It was my poor attempt at sarcasm, or humor, or maybe both.

                      1. re: Silverjay
                        racer x Jan 19, 2011 09:37 AM


                    2. scubadoo97 Jan 19, 2011 05:03 AM

                      I would describe it as a warm meaty taste. I feel it around the middle to outside of the tongue and not in a bad way. Just in a way that certain taste are noted on the tongue like sweet and bitter.

                      I use it when cooking certain foods. It's great in soups and stews in small quantities. If I have a large pot of soup and add as little as a 1/4 tsp I can taste it and it taste good.

                      1. Kurtis Jan 19, 2011 09:22 AM

                        I would agree that for most people it's impossible to taste it in the food if used in moderation, and also that it's easier to taste in liquids than solids. Personally, I only sense the likelihood that it is there, and strongly suspect after parking a large bottle of water next to my bed at 2am. Luckily this doesn't happen often, but I usually end up not returning to the restaurant even if the food was great because this essentially ruins the whole dining experience in an unfortunate letdown way.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Kurtis
                          c oliver Jan 19, 2011 12:34 PM

                          The fact that you're thirsty later ruins the whole thing? I drink alot of water every night cause I'm thirsty due to an allergy med. I'd much rather have that side effect from great food than a stupid pill :)

                        2. r
                          racer x Jan 19, 2011 09:42 AM

                          Fun article.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: racer x
                            Kurtis Jan 20, 2011 06:42 AM

                            Nice find...

                            1. re: Kurtis
                              huiray Jan 20, 2011 07:34 AM


                            2. re: racer x
                              Steve Jan 20, 2011 08:47 AM

                              Required reading.

                              1. re: Steve
                                c oliver Jan 20, 2011 09:04 AM

                                Agreed. Very good article.

                              2. re: racer x
                                BobB Mar 3, 2011 11:36 AM

                                Great article! "...peanuts, shellfish, large amounts of lager..."

                              3. j
                                julesrules Jan 23, 2011 03:40 PM

                                I can taste it in junk food. We'll pick up something new like flavoured Triscuits and I'll say "MSG" and my husband will check the label, and there it will be.
                                Someone on chowhound once said canned broth is a back-door way to add sodium, I think more to the point, it's a way to add MSG. Seems like a powder would be cheaper, I was eyeing it at the bulk store the other day.
                                My Korean-Canadian friend makes jokes about it: 'oh I feed my kid those
                                baby crackers too; oh wait, I mean the Korean version - with MSG". Definitely a
                                different attitude, even though I don't believe it's harmful, I would prefer baby foods without it (not an entirely rational stance I know).

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: julesrules
                                  Kurtis Jan 23, 2011 05:01 PM

                                  I have tasted MSG on its own, so I know how it tastes; I just couldn't pinpoint it in food. But I think you helped me to solve my puzzle with your comment on Triscuit which in reflection I can taste MSG! (I used to eat that cracker regularly and remember tasting it clearly now). Bit weird I know, but an ah-ha moment...thanks.

                                  1. re: julesrules
                                    joonjoon Jan 25, 2011 12:52 PM

                                    Jules, from what I understand breastmilk is absolutely loaded with glutamate...it's supposed to ensure the baby likes the milk. :)

                                    1. re: julesrules
                                      jgg13 Jan 25, 2011 12:53 PM

                                      considering that pretty much all junk food has MSG, I don't know that it is a sign of any great skill to eat some junk food and guess that there's MSG in there :)

                                    2. j
                                      joonjoon Jan 25, 2011 01:00 PM

                                      So I've been experimenting with MSG a LOT lately, none of these are blind tastes but I think I'm starting to get a feel for how it tastes. I will often make a dish, taste, then add msg and taste again to see how affects flavor.

                                      The first thing I noticed is that MSG creates a slick sensation of "roundness" in your mouth - this sensation feels like it's coating your tongue, almost like something is "touching" or activating all of the receptors on your tongue at once, and this sensation lingers after the flavor of the food itself is gone. Interesting stuff. I almost associate MSG more with a mouthfeel than taste, strictly speaking. It's almost like it lubes up everything in your mouth. I think this is why MSG is so good in soup.

                                      I've found the best use of MSG is with dishes that are short on meat, like stir fries, soups, and veggie dishes. It works wonders for something as simple as sauteed spinach, and also really tasty mixed into mashed potatoes, and interesting on eggs. I've found that if the dish is already meat heavy the MSG flavor tends to gets lost - last night I made steak and dipped a piece straight into msg and ate it, and it really didn't improve the steak in any noticable way. Actually, the MSG flavor took away from the flavor of steak somehow.

                                      By the way, the thirst probably comes from the MS, not the G. If you're adding MSG to your food remember to salt less.

                                      8 Replies
                                      1. re: joonjoon
                                        c oliver Jan 25, 2011 01:22 PM

                                        It's funny. I've been considering buy some MSG because of reading this thread :)

                                        1. re: c oliver
                                          joonjoon Jan 25, 2011 01:36 PM

                                          You totally should, I think it's a really interesting ingredient to work with.

                                          Perhaps this deserves its own thread, but I've been wondering:

                                          If MSG doesn't pose a health risk and it makes everything taste better, why WOULDN'T you use it on everything?

                                          I'm going to find out. Tonight I'm going to have Iceberg wedge salad with blue cheese dressing and MSG. Entree is Sausage & Peppers in red sauce over pasta with MSG, with a side of sauteed spinach with, you guessed it, MSG.

                                          Tomorrow I might kick it up a notch. Will water taste waterier with MSG? Will it have that deep water flavor I thought was lacking in water?

                                          Will MSG make ice cream icier and creamier?

                                          What about MSG with wine? Can it elevate cheap wine to a fine aged one? What will it do to wine that's already fine and aged? (insert mind blowing noise here)

                                          We will find out.

                                          (I think this needs to be a blog.)

                                          1. re: joonjoon
                                            racer x Jan 25, 2011 05:47 PM

                                            I think the point of MSG is to boost the umami in foods that are lacking it.
                                            Your salad with blue cheese will already be loaded with it from the blue cheese, same with the sausage (especially if you top that with parmesan) and the spinach -- and possibly the wine!

                                            1. re: racer x
                                              joonjoon Jan 25, 2011 08:19 PM

                                              You thought wrong, racer x. The point of MSG is to boost the umami of foods that are already bursting with it to levels heretofore unknown to man!

                                              1. re: joonjoon
                                                scubadoo97 Jan 26, 2011 04:18 AM

                                                I think you will quickly find there is a limit, just like something being overly sweet you can have too much umami. Still I look forward to your research.

                                                1. re: scubadoo97
                                                  jgg13 Jan 26, 2011 08:49 AM

                                                  There definitely is a "too much" level, and I'm a huge fan of MSG. I started adding it to everything (in a less scientific method than joonjoon, but similar) and every once in a while I'd add way too much and/or add it and then add other things w/ heavy umami qualities and eventually it just gets overwhelming.

                                          2. re: c oliver
                                            Steve Mar 5, 2011 03:22 PM

                                            I sometimes use MSG on steamed vegetables if they aren't tasty on their own. It really works; it will bring out the flavor.

                                          3. re: joonjoon
                                            RealMenJulienne Mar 3, 2011 06:25 PM

                                            I really like your description, it's very descriptive and eloquent. I have a bag of the stuff in my kitchen that I bought out of curiosity and when I eat a few crystals of it it tastes just as you say.

                                          4. t
                                            Terrieltr Jan 26, 2011 01:40 PM

                                            I don't know if it's actually MSG I'm tasting, but in foods that use a lot of additives to make up for sub-par ingredients, I find that they have an odd chemical aftertaste. And two things are always high on the list of ingredients: MSG and salt.

                                            7 Replies
                                            1. re: Terrieltr
                                              jgg13 Jan 26, 2011 01:49 PM

                                              I would wager a large sum of money that you're seeing an example of the notion that correlation != causation

                                              1. re: jgg13
                                                Terrieltr Jan 26, 2011 05:20 PM

                                                You're probably right. If a company is using a lot of additives, they're always using MSG and salt. But I don't encounter the same aftertaste in items that draw glutamate from other sources. It's mainly an easy short hand. If there's a bunch of salt and MSG, they're trying to hide a lack of decent flavor, and I probably don't want to put it in my mouth.

                                                1. re: Terrieltr
                                                  c oliver Jan 26, 2011 05:28 PM

                                                  But if I can take something without alot of flavor and add to it easily I don't see why not. This thread has opened my eyes to the possibilities of MSG and I'm buying some tomorrow. BTW, I cook pretty much from scratch.

                                              2. re: Terrieltr
                                                ipsedixit Jan 26, 2011 02:37 PM

                                                I don't know if it's actually MSG I'm tasting, but in foods that use a lot of additives to make up for sub-par ingredients, I find that they have an odd chemical aftertaste. And two things are always high on the list of ingredients: MSG and salt.


                                                Example, please.

                                                1. re: ipsedixit
                                                  Terrieltr Jan 26, 2011 05:17 PM

                                                  The two big offenders are chicken broth and flavored potato chips.

                                                  1. re: Terrieltr
                                                    c oliver Jan 26, 2011 05:30 PM

                                                    My last batch of chicken stock was made from feet and backs. It has so much umami that I don't need to add to it. But I'm positive commercial stock would never go to the time and effort needed so add the MSG. Why not?

                                                    1. re: Terrieltr
                                                      ipsedixit Jan 26, 2011 05:43 PM

                                                      With Chicken Broth, the off-taste you are tasting is more likely oxidation from the fats contained in the broth, which can produce a rancid-like taste.

                                                      Re: flavored potato chips ... isn't that the whole point? I don't eat Doritos for their au natural flour and/or potato taste ... I want that blast of adrenaline rush from all that Nacho Cheese and Cool Ranch artificial chemicals.

                                                2. alliegator Jan 27, 2011 08:31 AM

                                                  Yup. And it's delish!!! I never understood the difference until I spent several months in Thailand and went to the same patch of beach to hang out every day. There were 2 shack-like restaurants--one had a big "we use no MSG" sign and the other didn't have it. I joked with the owner of the no sign place about it and he was like--ohhh, tastes good. And the food at that places was way better. Dishes were basically the same, but the MSG gave it ooomph.
                                                  What's funny is that my friend would always go get the food from the non MSG place, bring it back proclaiming how much healthier it is all with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth, lol.

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