What is it?
A mixture of sodium and glutamate. Sodium is salt, glutamate is an amino acid (amino acids are the building blocks of protein) Found naturally in: Tomatoes Parmesan cheese Mushrooms
How is it made?
The glutamate in MSG is made by fermenting sugar, and depending on where in the world it’s being made, different sources are used to ferment the sugar. For example, in the USA it’s made from corn. This is then fermented to make glutamic acid and then sodium is added to make it into MSG. To make it easier to use, the final product is made into a crystal form to so that it can be put into a shaker (like salt).
Is MSG high in salt?
MSG does contain sodium, but interestingly, it can help to reduce your total sodium content by adding it to food and it can be used as a technique to reduce sodium intake! The addition of MSG to your food heightens the flavours (in a similar way that you would add salt to make a dish more tasty) without changing the flavour of what you’re eating, and because it’s made of glutamate AND sodium you don’t end up using as much compared to if you were just using salt to season your food.
What’s the connection with the 5th taste ‘umami’?
There are 4 common tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter Umami is a savoury taste that stays on the tongue for longer – it’s technically the taste of MSG in the purest form. Remember, it doesn’t change the colour or flavour of a dish but heightens the natural flavours of savoury foods.
When can you use it?
In the same way that you would add salt to season your food or dishes. Maybe you don’t want to add too much salt, or you want to make something you’re cooking extra tasty without using spices.
How much do you use?
Like a spice or salt, just use a light sprinkle to taste. Use it when roasting veggies as an alternative to spices. Add it to cooked veggies to make them more tasty!
Should I be worried about seeing MSG in restaurants/packaged foods?
With many governments increasing pressure on food manufacturers to reduce the salt content of their food, some are turning to MSG to use instead, so that products are made as tasty as possible but without the high sodium content. Using MSG can reduce the amount of sodium by 40% which is why it’s often used in this way.
Chinese Restaurant Syndrome!
I think we have all either experienced this, or know someone who has! The symptoms range from headaches to a funny tummy and were first recognised in 1968 when a letter was published in a medical journal, with the author writing about how they experienced a headache after eating Chinese food. In the letter, they said it could have come from the MSG, the soy sauce, the cooking alcohol… but the letter started to be quoted as the source for showing that MSG within the food caused the headache, and since then, negative symptoms related to MSG have continued anecdotally. This means that because of what people had heard about MSG and headaches, they then associated chinese food with negative symptoms, even though there’s actually no proof to show this. (Also…. MSG originated in Japan and not China!) In 1969 there was a study in which they injected MSG into rats’ abdomens. The study did show negative effects – but this study couldn’t be related to humans. Our body has mechanisms in place to help with absorption. When you inject something into a rat’s stomach, it won’t be absorbed the same way they would be in a human bo
dy. Plus, the doses were so high, more than a person would ever eat – so it wasn’t valid but ‘proved’ what the author had written in the letter about MSG causing negative symptoms. Since then, there have been huge amounts of studies showing no negative effects from eating MSG the way we would in meals. The largest study was in 2000 and involved giving MSG to people who advised that they were sensitive. It was a blind study, and this means that the individuals didn’t know if MSG had been added to the food that they were eating or not. The dose was about 10 times what you might eat, and gradually decreased. The study looked at the dose amounts and if individuals reported any symptoms. Only 2 people of the 130 people in the study said they had some sensitivity but their reports were inconsistent (they were only reporting negative reactions 2 out of 3 times). The study also considered other possible physiological symptoms, such as heart rate, blood levels, but found no significant negative effects. Following more recent research, in 2018 the International Headaches Society removed MSG from their list of triggers that can cause headaches.
Does MSG cause weight gain?
This is false – there’s nothing in it that will cause weight gain – it’s just salt and glutamate. I can’t believe this! I know when I eat MSG I get symptoms…so what am I sensitive to? Could I be allergic to MSG? You’re not making it up – but what else could be causing these symptoms? Is it too much salt? Are you dehydrated? What else were you eating? → If you’re sensitive to MSG, you’ll also be sensitive to other foods that contain glutamate (tomatoes, parmesan cheese, mushrooms) → When we eat MSG, your body doesn’t distinguish between the glutamate that’s naturally present or added MSG. The good news is that it’s not possible to have an allergy to MSG. This is because it’s made of glutamate and sodium – and neither one are allergens. If you think you do have a sensitivity then it’s worth looking into it again to see what you could be sensitive to. There is a process that you can follow for identifying food intolerances or sensitivities which I’ll explain another time.