Monosodium glutamate (MSG) and salt have a lot in common, including a similar appearance. Both consist of white crystals that can differ in size and both may show up in the same types of dishes. Their similarities do not mean that they are exactly the same or that you can use them interchangeably. Let’s take a look at how these two food additives compare to each other.
Table of Contents
- How do MSG and salt differ?
- Can you use MSG in place of salt? And vice versa?
- When should you use MSG and when should you use salt?
- Must-read related posts
How do MSG and salt differ?
Monosodium glutamate is one of many different forms of salt used in cooking. Other forms include sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and sodium nitrate (curing salt). It is a sodium salt that comes from glutamic acid, which you can find in tomatoes and many other foods.
Like baking soda and curing salt, MSG has a specific function that is different from the functions of the other types of salt. MSG is purely a source of the umami flavor. Its job is to give savory foods a richer and meatier flavor, which means that its function is more specialized when compared to table salt.
Salt is also known as sodium chloride, and is the most universal seasoning—it is used in every food culture, in both sweet and savory dishes. It’s a part of what defines savory foods, in that it shows up in almost all of them. It also enhances sweetness when used in small amounts in a dessert. Salt enhances most other flavors, too, including the flavors of other spices used in a dish and the flavor of the main ingredient itself.
While sodium, in moderation, is critical for your health, both MSG and salt can have serious negative effects on health if overused. Both of them can increase blood pressure; however, MSG’s effects are over a longer time period than salt. It has much less sodium – only about a third of the amount found in table salt. In other words, you have to eat a lot more MSG-laden food for a longer time for it to affect blood pressure.
Even though MSG use is generally regarded as safe by the FDA, many people continue to believe that it is harmful due to the myth of Chinese restaurant syndrome (where MSG was believed to have caused headaches, numbness, and more.) That myth has been debunked by many, even though many Chinese food restaurants still market “No MSG” on their menus.
Can you use MSG in place of salt? And vice versa?
As a flavor enhancer, MSG does have some of the function of salt and has been used as a condiment at the table, just like salt. Early in its history, you could find MSG on many Japanese households’ tables; it was kept there for sprinkling on food similar to the table salt in Western countries.
Because it does not have as much sodium, it is sometimes recommended as a replacement for some or all of the salt in a recipe, if sodium intake is a potential health risk. It can enhance savoriness without as significant an effect on blood pressure. It is important to note that the umami taste that it provides is not the same as saltiness, which means that its effect will not be exactly the same.
–> Learn More: What’s A Good MSG Substitute?
Salt can be used as an alternative to MSG and will enhance savory flavors, but on its own will not provide the same umami qualities that you would get from MSG. It should also be used sparingly since it can cause its own set of health issues.
When should you use MSG and when should you use salt?
MSG can work in any savory food. While you may be more familiar with its use in Asian dishes, it can provide similar effects in soups, sauces, and vegetables from any food culture. You can add it to dry rubs and marinades or mix it with salt and sprinkle it onto French fries.
Salt is a true all-purpose seasoning that can be used in any savory dish and one that you need for most sweet ones as well. Depending on the ingredients in a dish, you may not need to add extra salt; however, it is usually necessary to have it in some form.