HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


Sneakiest Chef Ingredients... a MSG rant


An Asian ingredient that's starting to become a trend/prevalent amongst *western* shortcut taking chefs and restaurateurs. In the name of time, money, laziness and a duped diner.... The sneakiest of them all."Umami". MSG.

Damn Mr. Ajinomoto and Ac'cent!

If you are curious and want to understand it once and for all.

Buy a bag of MSG from the market. Taste some straight up.. a spoon or 2. Sense the taste and feeling on your tongue... then check back 10 min later. Note how your tongue, mind, and body feels. Did you experience foodgasmic umami bliss? Tell me its a "harmless ingredient".

Then try truffle mushrooms, one of the few natural occurring foods containing all three umami giving compounds in any significant amounts, straight up..

Then try each heavily paired with a nice cut of steak.

There is no mistaking Umami from natural glutamates for MSG.

Sex with a stranger vs sex with the one you love.
Louis Vuitton vs Louie Vuitton.

That's what it's all about. If you still don't understand, that's ok - I haven't been to the moon either.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. The use of MSG is just starting to become a trend in Western food...? It's not been done before now? Mmmm. Who knew? This is certainly news to me. Thanks. We must stop this before it catches on and becomes widespread all over the world.

    So if I'm understanding you... and please correct me if I'm wrong.... Eating straight MSG from a bag vs. nibbling a truffle are different experiences.... and dropping a pebble on your head is *different* than being crushed by a two-ton boulder. Hm. I'll have to remember that as well.

    Thanks for the info.

    Science has proven that the so-called "MSG effect" is purely placebo related. Try your test with pure salt or pure sugar -- also completely natural pure ingredients -- and you will get the same results if you believe you will. The only valid studies are double blind -- which yours isn't.

    It's totally cool if you don't like it and don't want to eat it. But don't pretend there's any scientific basis that it's bad for you or a significant portion of the population when there just isn't any. Or that it's some evil encroaching culinary trend when it's a proven totally safe and reliable, natural flavor enhancer, and has been for more than 100 years.

    11 Replies
    1. re: acgold7

      While I do respect your position, I don't agree with you.

      Not only is taste involved but the after effects of how you feel after eating the food. Like I said, try the little experiment out for yourself sometime.

      Remember, I'm speaking in terms of a restaurant treating food more like a product then something you eat.

      Yes, you can say that about pure sugar. But that's also my point as well.
      Make a simple syrup with sugar and water and use that for your waffles and pancakes vs something like honey or maple syrup. But at least eating a teaspoon or 2 doesn't make you feel bad afterwards compared to the pure chemical MSG which doesn't exist in nature.

      In terms of cooking; Sugar vs honey, molasses, sugarcane, maple syrup, etc.

      1. re: Eddoword

        I get a kick everytime someone equates "natural" with wholesomeness or goodness.
        Try this experiment:
        Buy a bag of hemlock from the market. Taste some straight up.. a few leaves. Sense the taste and feeling on your tongue... then check back 10 min later. Note how your tongue, mind, and body feels, tingling of the extremeties, and tiredness. Did you experience foodgasmic umami bliss? Tell me its a "natural ingredient" and thus, by default, it is good.

        1. re: Eddoword

          A teaspoon or two of pure sugar is certainly worse for you, especially if you're diabetic. So, objectively and scientifically, a much larger proportion of the population would feel much worse after doing that. Diabetes and insulin resistance are real and documented.

          And pure sugar doesn't exist in nature either -- it has to be made just as MSG does.

          Again, no one is telling you that you have to like or eat the stuff. If you think it makes you feel bad, then it does. Tastes vary and all people are different. But the analogies you are using make no sense and have no logic or scientific or objective basis behind them.

        2. re: acgold7

          Shit oh dear, MSG was a staple in my mom's kitchen in the 1950s. It was called Accent and she used it sparingly, but she had it in stock.

          1. re: EWSflash

            MIL always had Accent in her pantry too. It was used in her delicious goulash.
            All I know is preservatives in foods play major havoc with my tongue.

            1. re: iL Divo

              Reassuring to know that I'm not the only one with tongue issues.

              1. re: iL Divo

                salt, smoke, vinegar (well acid in general), and alcohol are all preservatives. how do you feel about them?

                1. re: charles_sills

                  For me, not counting foods that don't please my palate (i.e. sea urchin, shiso, beets and produce high in capsaisin), MSG seems to be the only item, preservative or otherwise, that I have a physiological reaction to.

              2. re: EWSflash

                Yes, exactly. The container of Accent which was in my grandmother's kitchen had never registered with me until I was looking through an old cookbook of traditional Maine recipes. The fish chowder called for something called Accent. I looked it up and figured out what it was... and found it at the grocery store. The general look of the container jogged my memory. I'm not sure how long this brand has been around, but definitely since mid-20th century.

            2. if truffles tasted exactly like msg and msg tasted exactly like truffles, you'd make the same argument. you decide "there's no mistaking umami from natural glutamates" first, then you assign the natural one the better taste sensation.

              i wanna see blind taste tests. i bet a lot of people like msg better than truffles, too, also, btw.

              1 Reply
              1. re: TheFoodEater

                Great. I would like to see those tests too.

                Really though, I don't care as much as its me that's tasting, eating, and experiencing the food. It's all that matters.

              2. Isn't MSG basically just harvested from seaweed? I'm looking around, and I'm not seeing any (non woo-woo) account that it has any negative repercussions. Granted, I don't have any in my pantry, and I don't personally cook with it, but I think that persons who claim it causes a host of symptoms may be suffering a placebo affect.

                1. Do I use MSG in my kitchen? No.
                  Do I get fussed if someone else does, or am I deluded enough to think I don't consume at least a little of it every day? No.

                  It's not new -- it's been commercially available as an isolated ingredient since the early 1900s -- so if there were legitimate medical issues associated with its consumption, they should have manifested themselves by now, particularly in Asian communities, where you can buy the stuff in great big bags.

                  Have I ever tasted it right out of the bottle? Yes. Nasty stuff. But so is baking soda, baking powder, vanilla extract, and flour. The fact that it's unpleasant out of the package, straight up and on its own, does not in and of itself mean that it's harmful.

                  But put any of those things IN another recipe (for those particular ingredients, let's make chocolate chip cookies) -- and they become a wonderful tasty treat, and leaving out any of them would render the final product less attractive and/or less tasty.

                  1. I have eaten a spoonful of MSG straight from the bag. It had a taste I can only describe as "not-quite-sour". Zero aftereffects, positive or negative. Maybe the reason MSG doesn't taste like a mushroom is because the former is a small distilled crystal and the latter is an mushroom-- AHH forget it. Why even bother reasoning with anti-science people.

                    1. Thanks for your sharing your thoughts. Seems like I stepped on some toes and have offended some folks.

                      It's funny because I'm not even directing this at people who eat the food... only the chefs at restaurants who use it.

                      And for those who think this is a science-related thing, why approach food from that angle. Food and cooking is art too.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: Eddoword

                        Wait a minute. You framed your entire thesis as a quasi scientific experiment and are now saying we shouldn't approach food from that angle? Man, this is like playing whack-a-mole.... We're only approaching it from that angle because that's how you positioned this entire discussion.

                        1. re: Eddoword

                          'It's funny because I'm not even directing this at people who eat the food... only the chefs at restaurants who use it.'
                          Just an FYI - I'd venture that added MSG is probably a good deal more common in processed food than restaurant food.

                          1. re: Eddoword

                            All artists know their materials, so that is the role that science plays. It is also the role that science plays in food and cooking. It's all in how you use the materials/ingredients.
                            Besides you can hand make your paints from strictly organic materials, buy only humanely raised brushes etc. but you still aren't going to be able to be Michelangelo.
                            Using truffles doesn't make you a great chef, using MSG doesn't make you a bad one.

                            1. re: Quine

                              Man Quine, that was a seriously brilliant response.

                            2. re: Eddoword

                              "Seems like I stepped on some toes and have offended some folks."

                              And I don't think that's true either, because that implies an emotional and irrational reaction or set of replies, and that's not what we're seeing here. No one would suggest you don't have a right to dislike anything and refuse to eat it; that's what personal taste and opinion are all about and there are endless debates about that all over these boards. But when you put something out as fact that is completely untrue and unsubstantiated, people tend to throw down the challenge card because they don't want to perpetuate nonsense and have others accept myths as fact.

                              So what you're seeing, I think, is completely emotionless correction of simple errors so that others are not misinformed by the allegations in the original post.

                            3. Meh. It's a rant. Rants, by their very nature, are irrational.

                              1. MSG is a common ingredient in many prepared foods, such as soups and sauces. It has been used for a long time by the food industry in the US. Most people just never read the labels.

                                1. If I had the money to back it, I would offer a bet. I make two capsules. One filled with MSG powder and one filled with salt and cornstarch. A person swallows one of said pills at random along with a big glass of juice and a small snack. After a couple hours, if said contestant can guess whether they took the MSG pill, they win $5,000. If they guess wrong, they loose $10,000.

                                  The existing studies on MSG sensitivity suggest that I could make a lot of money this way if I got enough people willing to play. But no repeat bettors, just in case.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: cowboyardee

                                    I'd invest in your experiment. Definitely a high yield return.

                                    1. re: cowboyardee

                                      I have been MSG-sensitive since I was a child (in the 70s). I do not come from a family that "looks for" food sensitivities or allergies (we eat everything in sight, actually), nor am I a person who is convinced I'm allergic to something when I merely dislike it (not criticizing those who have genuine food allergies, I just think the term is misapplied by some individuals). However, I can spot MSG in food by how I feel minutes after ingesting it. Granted, I have not done any quasi-scientific experiments to back up my body's response -- and it's definitely possible the amount of MSG ingested or the food item the MSG is served in (the vector, so to speak) influences my reaction -- it's still a reaction. I avoid it when I can.

                                      ETA: Let me be clear that I am not anti-MSG. I think it has it's place in food prep. I just think the other extreme of pro-MSG folks who insist anyone who does have a physical reaction to MSG is displaying psychosomatic symptoms is then being dismissive of those of us who have a very real response to it, whatever the trigger (type of food, amount, etc). Clearly, MSG is an (1) additive/ingredient and is (2) ingested ,and so whether I am in a statistically insignificant group or not, it does effect some of us outliers.

                                    2. i don't use msg, but when i was studying nutrition for elderly populations in institutions/nursing homes, msg was recommended as an ingredient because it was an appetite stimulant for folks who may otherwise eat poorly and suffer nutritional deficiencies.

                                      1. As mentioned by other posters, MSG use is nothing new. If anything, it is less common than it was decades ago, when nobody had yet claimed it gave them a headache. In the late 50's and 60's, when I was growing up, my mother put Ac'cent in everything that wasn't dessert. It was sold in national chain supermarkets in larger canisters and there were also generic and store brands, which is a reflection of its popularity. Now, I only see it in a small canister about 5" tall. I started using it again a year or so ago - I use virtually no sodium chloride - but only very sparingly and I can't say with confidence that I notice a difference in the food. I'm probably not using enough. When I first began cooking I used it because Mom did, then stopped because of the criticisms about its safety. It certainly never bothered me but I suppose others may have problems.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: greygarious

                                          +1. I had been trying to copy the salsa of a doctor at work (whose son was a locally famous chef) and I almost had it one day, then I thought I'd add some aji-no-moto to it, waited a few minutes, tried it, and it tasted like Fred's salsa, which was also locally famous. So I confronted him and he denied the hell out of it for several minutes of cross-examination, but I broke him down and told him how I'd figured it out, and then he admitted it and said that it allowed the flavors to marry. It did make a difference. When you don't need to use it because the ingredients are so wonderful, then don't use it, but if they fall short, use just a little and it makes it better to our palates.

                                          1. re: greygarious

                                            Yes, I concur that use of MSG is perhaps less common today. Last month I cleaned out my elderly aunt's apartment in Chicago. On her bookshelf I found a Japanese cookbook, written in 1958 by a japanese woman, translated to english in 1961. Virtually every single recipe called for MSG. In my aunt's spice rack, a jar of MSG. I brought the book home but not the MSG - I figured it was a least a decade old. May buy some new to make a few recipes from the book.

                                            1. re: greygarious

                                              If anything, it is less common than it was decades ago, when nobody had yet claimed it gave them a headache.

                                              Which probably explains the increase in sodium in the American diet.

                                            2. Man, I wish I had a penny for each time someone posted a rant about MSG.

                                              I'd be able to buy at least a couple of meals at Per Se.

                                              1. I use MSG at home. There...I said it. Why? I love western style chinese food and I make a mean chicken vegetable almond at home and it's just not the same without it. Veg stays crunchy, chicken tastes delicious. I've tried...but MSG-less guy ding is like a steak au poivre without the pepper. I know its chemically and nasty stuff but what can you do?

                                                18 Replies
                                                1. re: rayrayray

                                                  I've never bought Accent or other straight MSG items, but use a moderate amount of Hispanic seasonings (Goya, Maggi, Knorr) where MSG is a prominent ingredient. Also some Japanese soup bases (Hondashi).

                                                  1. re: paulj

                                                    paulj you might be interested in trying this for seasoning. Probably the one I use most often.

                                                    1. re: Quine

                                                      I haven't seen that. There aren't a lot of Singapore products in the groceries that I shop (e..g 99Ranch, HMart). All I have from there is some coconut jam.

                                                      1. re: Quine

                                                        I found this at a Vietnamese owned produce stand that I frequent. It was next to the bags of AjiNoMoto. However at $6 for a 500g bag, it falls outside my usual 'experiment' budget, so I passed on it (for now).

                                                        1. re: paulj

                                                          I can understand, I'd send ya some if I could.

                                                        2. re: Quine

                                                          I have a big bag of this stuff. I like it quite a bit and use it as a general flavor-enhancer. But I have to say I'm a little suspicious of it. Googling shows that there are knock offs out there. How to tell the real deal, and what's in the supposed fakes? What is ASP? I think this product is referred to by Dave Chang in one of the early issues of Lucky Peach. They were experimenting with a new ramen broth. I think he was intrigued but ultimately passed.

                                                          1. re: hetook

                                                            They are international, with products tailored to local tastes.
                                                            For example a popular Mexican powdered bouillon flavor is tomato-chicken.

                                                            Maggi products in various hispanic countries.

                                                              1. re: hetook

                                                                I have a jar of Maggi beef bouillon with English labels, but made in Guatemala. I have a couple of old bottles of Maggi seasoning (which is largely hydrolized wheat protein and MSG), one made in the USA, the other Germany (with a 'Taste of Asia' url)
                                                                is Maggi India's web site.

                                                                1. re: paulj

                                                                  I didn't know maggi was guatemalian.

                                                                  1. re: hetook

                                                                    Or it (Nestle) has production facilities in Guatemala.

                                                              2. re: paulj

                                                                Maggi was founded in Switzerland in the late 1800s. The headquarters for the brand is still it Switzerland, but it's owned by Nestle, so is localized to whatever the local market dictates.

                                                                Knorr was founded in Germany in the early 1800s, and the headquarters for the brand is still in Germany. It's now owned by Unilever...and again is now localized to meet the local markets.

                                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                                  Nestle is also Swiss -- I'm not sure why being owned by another Swiss firm causes Maggi's products to be "localized to whatever the local market dictates"--every big international consumer products firm does that, from food ingredients to soap to cars to fast food. Same with Knorr/Unilever. Unilever is a Dutch-British combo by the way. Both these companies have had major operations in the US, and everywhere else in the world, for generations.

                                                                  It is interesting that the only country where Unilever does not have the right to the Knorr brand name is Japan--there the rights are owned by Ajinomoto, which was the inventor (Professor Ikeda) and still the largest producer of (gasp!) MSG.

                                                                  1. re: johnb

                                                                    don't know how you read that into it.

                                                                    The origins of the company are Swiss -- I stated that the hq for the brand are still in Switzerland merely as an information point.
                                                                    They're now owned by a giant multinational -- doesn't really matter where the HQ is -- it was only in there for information.

                                                                    I was simply stating facts with no opinion or judgment to be inferred whatsoever...and the only reason I put in that it's localized was in response to the other poster who assumed that because the product said "made in Guatemalan" that the company must also be Guatemalan.

                                                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                                                      Isn't there a Food Media thread about the international character of Maggi, based on a piece done by NPR? A few days ago NPR had a followup, in which listeners and staff talked about how they grew up thinking that Maggi seasoning was their own culture's product - every one except middle-America.

                                                        3. You're definitely not comparing apples to apples here. That's like saying now feel the warmth of the fire by standing back 5 feet and now stick your hands in the fire. A truffle has naturally occurring umami compounds, but it's not 100% umami compounds, it's diluted. Like many other posters on this thread, I have a science background (B.S. in chemistry) and posts like this drive me crazy.

                                                          1. Well sir, I HIGHLY recommend you stop eating out. Or really, eating anything but PLAIN lettuce, grown in your own garden, completely and utterly free of anything but cow poop (it's a great fertilizer!).

                                                            In fact, here's some of the foods you should stop eating all together: "any fast food at all, ever, Doritos, Pringles, Nathan's hot dogs, chip dip, salted nuts, sushi (seaweed extract is MSG after all!), sausages (unless you make your own...but they won't last long, cause you shouldn't really put preservatives in 'em), most salad dressings, any flavored potato chip, canned soup, many lunch meats, canned tuna, Worcestershire sauce, most flours, parm cheese, over-ripe tomatoes, mushrooms, and many many many other products".

                                                            I could go on forever. Here's the link I got them all from: http://www.msgtruth.org/avoid.htm, if you want to see more! They've got a bazillion of them!

                                                            Look, in case you missed my sarcasm above, check your facts. Don't come onto a website claiming that some "study" you did is in any way legitimate, unless you did it properly. Also, try tasting salt straight out the shaker, or pepper in the same manner. Bet it's going to taste equally nasty...but put it on food, and suddenly it's a magical ingredient that makes things taste great.

                                                            I think the one who truly doesn't understand is you. You're simply passing on the same excuses that the rest of anti-MSG community continues to perpetuate, even though studies have been done that prove otherwise. Also, did you know that glutamate is naturally occurring in the human body? It's even present in breast milk! (http://www.squidoo.com/monosodium-glu...)

                                                            "In 1970, the University of Western Sydney conducted a study in which they fed 11 individuals, for a period of 6 weeks, a whopping 147 grams of MSG per day. The researchers reported that there were no adverse reactions amongst the study participants."


                                                            3 Replies
                                                            1. re: milkyway4679

                                                              milkyway, you are my hero today.
                                                              I'm not pro or con MSG ( I use it sometimes if the dish needs it) but for God's sake, people need to know what the hell they're railing at, and some people, like my mother, never let the facts or science get in the way of forming an opinion that she preached as fact.

                                                              1. re: EWSflash

                                                                I was hoping I didn't come off as too snarky, but I get pretty annoyed when people try to tell me what to think and know without knowing the facts behind it. I've been guilty of it before, so I'm not trying to preach on any soapbox here, but I try to do my research first if I'm posting claims online. It's not fair to mislead people in either way. I obviously am on the side of, if it's in there, no big deal, but if you truly don't want extra garbage in your food, more power to ya. But, don't go saying no MSG without truly understanding that "MSG" (and its counterparts) are in pretty much everything put on a shelf these days, from chips to dips, chicken to sausage, etc. It's a very common additive.

                                                                But d'awwww thanks, ya made me blush! :D

                                                                1. re: milkyway4679

                                                                  Milkyway, I just discovered that site through an article on Huffington Post and spent most of the evening reading. Pretty compelling and scary stuff. Who knows what is in our food these days.

                                                            2. Dare I join the fray? Strong opinions here.

                                                              I don't use MSG as I am one who does react negatively. Within minutes, I feel a physical difference in the sensation of my tongue to anything, somewhat like a coating that takes about a half hour to go away. MSG also, to be blunt, gives me gas; I'm uncomfortable for 2-3 hours. I AM a label-reader and won't buy products that contain MSG.

                                                              To be honest, the only places where I've had reactions have been Chinese restaurants, not Japanese or Korean.

                                                              11 Replies
                                                              1. re: msmarm

                                                                I'm not doubting your symptoms or your discomfort...but if you believe that the Japanese and Korean restaurants (or Italian or American or Mexican...) don't put MSG in their food, I think you're choosing to believe an untruth.

                                                                If it's only Chinese restaurants, I'd look beyond MSG on the ingredient list to find what's causing your intestinal issues.

                                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                                  Oh, and also fish sauce is a big no-no for me. Even a 1/2 tsp in a 3 qt pot of homemade soup causes me problems. I sort of treat the issue like an allergy and stay away from dishes that I know contain fish sauce.

                                                                  1. re: msmarm

                                                                    Do you know the brand of fish sauce used in the homemade soup?

                                                                    Fish sauce is high in umami, in most cases from the natural glutamates, not added MSG (but check the label). But I doubt if 1/2 tsp contains more than glutamates that would would encounter in sauces made with mushrooms and tomatoes, or a typical Japanese miso soup.

                                                                    It sure sounds as though you are reacting to something other than MSG.

                                                                    1. re: paulj

                                                                      paulj, if I remember correctly, I tried the fish sauce 2 times in homemade soup, had the same unpleasant result (tongue coating and bloating), and tossed the bottle knowing I'd never use it again.

                                                                      I'm open to finding out what I'm reacting to.... how do you recommend I proceed?

                                                                      For the record, I don't seem to be plagued with the negative symptoms from eating a moderate amount of sauteed mushrooms. Also, kelp/sushi wrapping seems to be no problem.

                                                                      1. re: msmarm

                                                                        I used to work with a woman who had that sort of reaction to commercial salad dressings in particular. Her tongue would turn blue-black, almost like a chow dog. She was in agony until in cleared up a few days later.

                                                                        I believe it was one of the commercial preservatives along the line of sulfites...but it's been close to 25 years now and I frankly just don't remember.

                                                                        1. re: msmarm

                                                                          msmarm, here's a simple test you can conduct:

                                                                          Buy some msg from a store. Have a friend empty out a couple capsules and fill one with some msg, and the other with some salt. Only that person should know which is which.

                                                                          Take one of the capsules one day, and the other the next. See if you can tell which is MSG by your symptoms.

                                                                          1. re: joonjoon

                                                                            er, no.

                                                                            You'd ask your doctor, who can advise you on the best way to tell, and to supervise the trial if necessary.

                                                                            Food allergies and sensitivites are nothing to screw with, nor are they anything to do on your own.

                                                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                                                              Except there's no such thing as an MSG allergy.

                                                                              1. re: joonjoon

                                                                                That was the subject of a long running, and ultimately locked, thread.

                                                                                1. re: joonjoon

                                                                                  the point being that if you think you might be sensitive to ANY food ingredient, you really shouldn't be randomly ingesting it just to see what happens.

                                                                                  If you think it is a sensitivity severe enough to cause physical pain or discomfort, you need to trot yourself down to the doctor's office where there's someone who can test you in a controlled environment -- meaning that if you ARE sensitive or allergic to that product, you can be treated immediately under medical supervision, rather than hoping the ambulance gets there fast enough.

                                                                              2. re: joonjoon

                                                                                Better yet, do seven capsules, six of them with salt and only one of them with MSG, taken over the course of a week. The friend will give you the pill each day (so the friend can segregate the one containing MSG and know which one it is).

                                                                    2. <"Taste some straight up.. a spoon or 2. Sense the taste and feeling on your tongue... then check back 10 min later. Note how your tongue, mind, and body feels. Did you experience foodgasmic umami bliss? Tell me its a "harmless ingredient".">

                                                                      A spoon or 2?

                                                                      Try tasting a spoon or 2 of salt and see how you feel eating that evil stuff?

                                                                      No way can you compare a spoon or 2 of straight MSG and the glutamate from a mushroom.

                                                                      Bad comparison Eddoword if you want anyone to take you seriously.

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: scubadoo97

                                                                        I know, such a poor, uneducated and inexperienced comparison. It right away, had me reject as useless, all else that was said..