Cooking With MSG: The Dos And Don’ts

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Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a food additive invented in Japan and which has been adopted throughout Asia and the western world. It is a great tool for enhancing the umami flavor note. Umami refers to the intense savory taste that you detect in broth or any other liquid used to braise meat for a long time. Its original purpose was to elevate bland but nutritious foods and you can use it to enhance many dishes once you understand a few rules. As with most spices, the benefits depend on how you use it. Here are some dos and don’ts of using MSG.

Do use MSG in savory dishes only.

The most important quality that MSG brings to a dish is the fact that it can subtly replicate meatiness. It is the same quality that you get from soy sauce or from a Japanese dashi. It will not do much for desserts or other sweet dishes since you will not be improving them by adding meaty or brothy flavor notes.

Do use MSG to help moderate your sodium intake.

Regular table salt is used to enhance flavors but can have serious negative effects on health. Even though MSG does contain sodium (since it is the sodium salt of glutamic acid) it does not contain as much as table salt, which means that it is healthier. Along with reducing your sodium intake directly, it can enhance flavors without making food saltier. As a result, it helps you to get accustomed to using less salt in your food.

Do add MSG before or during cooking.

The best time to add MSG is early in the cooking process. While you can add it at the table, it is absorbed into the food more thoroughly and evenly when you use it in rubs and marinades.

Do use MSG in moderation.

The benefits of using MSG will only be evident when you use it in a relatively narrow range of concentration. For a pound of meat or 4 servings of vegetables, use 1/2 a teaspoon of MSG.

Don’t use MSG as a 1:1 salt substitute.

While MSG does contain some salt it is not as salty as regular table salt. You would need to add too much of it to make a dish salty. Excessive amounts of MSG will give your food an unpleasant taste.

Don’t rely on MSG to save your dish.

Some are unable to detect any difference between food seasoned with MSG and MSG-free food. It is important to note that like any spice, MSG works best when it is used to augment quality ingredients in a skillfully composed recipe. It is not a magical ingredient that will turn bad food into good food. It can enhance a dish but it cannot transform it. It is also important to remember that MSG works best with blander foods. It may be more difficult to detect its presence in foods that are already very flavorful.

Don’t avoid MSG because you are afraid of so-called Chinese restaurant syndrome.

This syndrome was the cause of a panic surrounding MSG in the latter part of the 20th century. The syndrome has largely been debunked. There is no evidence that MSG causes any major health issues when consumed in moderation.