MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is a popular flavor-enhancing agent prominently used in Chinese cuisine. It is a white-colored powder that comprises crystals shaped like rhombic prisms.
It is, in fact, a notorious ingredient for the trouble it causes to our health. Solely for this reason, which we will look into in detail in this article, health-conscious foodies cut it off their charts.
Apart from that, you might be in dire need of MSG while cooking and realize you don’t have any. These reasons should be good enough for you to stumble upon this article, right?
So what are the best substitutes for MSG? Some of them are salt, beef stock, soy sauce, oyster sauce, parmesan cheese, dulse, kelp, shiitake mushrooms, and anchovies.
Before getting into that, let us explore MSG for a better understanding.
Quick Peek: MSG (Monosodium Glutamate)
A basic know-how of any ingredient will contribute to your culinary knowledge base. Let us deal with MSG right now.
What Is MSG?
MSG is a flavor enhancer, and seasoning agent used to perk up the flavor profile of food items. In layman’s terms, it is the sodium salt of glutamic acid. Kikunae Ikeda, the Japanese biochemist, is the man behind the origin of MSG.
MSG has a generally recognized as safe (GRAS) designation from the US FDA. That said, it is the key ingredient responsible for causing Chinese Restaurant Syndrome. Do you want to know what that is? Keep reading!
How Is MSG Made?
Glutamic acid is one of the essential amino acids found in our bodies as well as naturally in eggs, tomatoes, nuts, and corn. When the protein in glutamic acid is subjected to fermentation, it becomes glutamate which gives the umami flavor.
So what did Mr.Ikeda do? After a euphoric conversation with his wife, he had the idea to extract a crystalline compound from seaweed (nothing but glutamic acid) which had a savory tang. He named it MSG and soon obtained its patent.
Initially, MSG was produced from the hydrolysis of gluten, whereby wheat protein was extracted. Then, it was also extracted from soybeans. But over the years, the primary source has been sugarcane, and its fermentation yielded MSG.
Describing MSG: Flavor and Texture
This is the best bit – MSG has a rich umami flavor, the so-called fifth basic taste. The meaty, earthy, savory tang of MSG is what makes it truly authentic and flavorsome.
MSG has simply neither a particular texture nor a smell. It has a crystalline structure with prism-shaped crystals. Among other salts such as calcium, potassium, and magnesium, MSG is the most soluble in water.
Uses of MSG
MSG is an indispensable ingredient in Chinese and Japanese cuisines. It is a flavoring agent used in soups, sauces, stews, stocks, broths, gravies, stir-fries, roasted meat, or veggies.
If you want your dish all savory with a vigorous umami flavor, MSG is your ultimate call.
MSG On The Health Radar | Looking Through The Wellness Telescope!
So what is Chinese Restaurant Syndrome? Also known as MSG Symptom Complex, the Chinese Restaurant Syndrome is the onset of symptoms that come with MSG consumption. That’s disturbing! Some symptoms include headache, nausea, sweating, and skin blushing.
While some may deem it to be not true, there have been testimonial studies that talk about the effects of MSG. Although the FDA considers MSG safe for use, many people and restaurants choose not to include MSG in their menu.
That said, minimal and controlled consumption of MSG can lower the necessity of salt and reduce the risk of blood pressure and water retention.
Either you wish to avoid it or don’t have it yet crave for its umami flavor – these reasons are enough to let you know the best substitutes for MSG in your recipes. Let us look at them now.
18 Best Substitutes For MSG
Now that we have talked all about MSG let’s move to its substitutes. The eighteen best substitutes for MSG are as follows:
Salt is a readily available ingredient in almost every kitchen. It may not always be the best option to look for if you are out of MSG. However, salt can render that distinctive flavor close to MSG.
If you are looking to replace MSG with salt, consider using kosher salt or sea salt for best results. Table salt also works fine as an alternative for MSG. It doesn’t give the dish that umami flavor, though.
2. Beef Stock
Beef stock is a flavorful liquid obtained by simmering beef bones in water or wine and certain aromatics. Beef’s meat protein has glutamate, which is also present in MSG. That explains the meaty flavor of beef stock and its resemblance to MSG.
Try to brew your beef stock or broth if you plan to use it as a substitute for MSG. For an intense umami flavor, reduce the stock for over an hour so that the glutamates are concentrated enough for the savory tang.
Want to know how you can make an delicious stew with beef stock? Here’s the recipe for braised beef for you!
Soy sauce is another substitute for MSG that is easily available at an affordable price. Made of soybean, wheat, salt, and a fermenting agent, soy sauce is a brownish-colored condiment commonly used in Chinese cuisine.
Soy sauce has a strong savory taste with salty, umami flavors. It is a perfect replacement but be cautious with the amount. Soy sauce is more intense in flavor than MSG, which requires you to gradually add it after tasting.
Make some delicious grilled chicken wings and flavor them with soy sauce. Here’s the recipe for grilled chicken wings.
4. Oyster Sauce
Oyster sauce is a sauce variety made using oyster extracts, salt, sugar, and cornstarch. It is a brown-colored condiment with a sweet and salty flavor.
Oyster sauce is a perfect accompaniment to spring rolls, cooked veggies or meat, noodles and stir-fries. A rich source of vitamin D, manganese, copper and zinc, oyster sauce is good for your brain as well as your heart.
As with the case of soy sauce, you should be mindful of the quantity of oyster sauce while replacing MSG. Oyster sauce can be used as a substitute for MSG in soups, stews, salads, or stir-fries.
Parmesan cheese is one of those dairy foods that naturally contain MSG due to fermentation. It is an Italian type of granular cheese with a gritty texture. This delicious cheese variety is a primary ingredient in shepherd’s pie, macaroni and cheese and casseroles.
It is a standalone ingredient which can be enjoyed as a snack – the popular item being parmesan crisps!
It is a versatile ingredient that has a strong umami flavor. Although not a favorite option in Asian cooking, the rind of parmesan cheese is loaded with umami flavor, making it a considerable substitute for MSG.
If you want to make a delicious recipe with parmesan, here’s the recipe for chicken parmesan.
6. Cheddar Cheese
Cheddar cheese is a famous English hard cheese variety. It is the second most popularly used cheese in the US after mozzarella cheese.
Cheddar cheese is packed with protein, vitamin D, potassium and calcium which are beneficial in maintaining a healthy gut. It can also help in lowering the risk of osteoporosis, high blood pressure and diabetes.
It has a sharp, stifling flavor with a firm, creamy, buttery texture. It is also a dairy alternative for MSG, which naturally contains MSG!
Cheddar cheese gets better with age. (Like wine) The more aged the cheese is, the better is the taste it renders. Opt for aged, top-quality cheddar cheese while looking to replace MSG.
Let’s skip to some amazing recipes using cheddar. Here is the recipe for some flaky cheddar biscuits.
Let us start with the names first. Dulse also goes by the names palmaria palmata, red dulse, dilsk, and sea lettuce flakes.
Dulse is an edible red seaweed found in the Pacific and the Atlantic. It tastes a lot like bacon – it has a salty, savory umami flavor. It is helpful in improving eyesight as well as reducing blood pressure.
Your scrambled eggs or popcorn will be more flavorful if you add some dulse flakes on top of them!
It has a chewy texture when eaten raw and when cooked, it has a crispy texture. It is sold as a dried product and is available in Asian grocery stores.
Dulse has a mild, salty flavor which is why it can be used as an alternative for MSG.
Kelp is a brown-colored seaweed that is a common ingredient in Japanese cuisine. It is a natural source of MSG with a salty, umami flavor and a crunchy texture.
Kelp is a versatile ingredient which finds uses in many industries – toothpastes, shampoos, and pharmaceuticals. Aside these, they are used in cakes, puddings, salad dressings and frozen foods.
You can straightaway use Kelp instead of MSG in soups, stocks, or sauces, and you will not be disappointed with its rich, profound flavor.
9. Shiitake Mushroom
Shiitake mushroom is a worthy alternative to MSG, considering the fact that it is rich in glutamate. It has a meaty texture with a strong earthy flavor.
Did you know that shiitake mushroom is actually a medicinal mushroom? It is because they help in weight loss, improving energy, boosting cardiovascular health as well as immune system. A tasty medicine, I should say!
The flavor of mushroom is always a delight to relish upon. While choosing shiitake mushroom as a substitute for MSG, consider the nature of your recipe beforehand.
10. Yeast Extract
Yeast extract is frequently used for a savory flavor in soups, stews, and snacks. For the same reason, MSG can be substituted with yeast extract in whatever recipe you intend to try.
Yeast extract is different from yeast. Yeasts are gritty in texture while yeast extract comes to us in liquid form or paste.
Yeast extract is used in the same line as that of herbs and spices. It is an aromatic ingredient used to enhance the flavor of soups, meat products, and snacks.
Yeast extract also comprises glutamic acid as a result of fermentation. Opt for a moderate amount of yeast extract while substituting for MSG.
Anchovies are a bunch of edible, saltwater fishes found in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. This glutamate-rich seafood is a popular topping on pizzas and a seasoning agent in many cuisines.
Pissaladière, caesar, anchovy butter, and Puttanesca Sauce are some of the popular recipes which make use of anchovies. They can be even used as toppings on pizzas or sandwiches and in sauces and dips.
Anchovies are notably famous for their distinctive umami flavor. They have a meaty, shiny texture and can be substituted for MSG in soups, sauces, pizzas, or stir-fries.
Also known as crawdad and crawfish, crayfish is a freshwater crustacean with a sweet and salty flavor and a soft, delicate texture. It closely resembles a lobster in appearance.
It is used in many popular recipes. (You must try fried crawfish etouffee balls sometime!) Consumption of crayfish helps in bettering bone health, preventing depression and boosting brain health.
Ground crayfish is a commonly used ingredient in Nigerian cuisine. It has an intricate salty flavor which can be used in lieu of MSG in soups, sauces, and gravies.
Flavored oil is an affordable and available substitute for MSG. There are many options for us to choose when it comes to selecting one among them to replace MSG.
Some of the flavored oils which have savory notes are sesame oil, avocado oil, and sunflower. Depending on the type of your recipe, opt for an oil devoid of MSG for good results.
14. Tomato Paste
Did I not mention that tomatoes are one of the natural foods which contain MSG? Does it need more explanation as to why it is a good substitute?
Tomato paste is essentially the resultant thick paste obtained after simmering and reducing tomatoes for hours. It has a concentrated flavor of tomatoes – sweetly sour.
As it can be easily surmised, tomato paste has a thick consistency. With its intense savory flavor, it is one of the best substitutes for MSG.
15. Herb Mix
Come on; it is the time to use the great herbs stored in your pantry. Get your hands on garlic, thyme, onion powder, pepper, and oregano and blend them into a fine mixture.
This herb mix, comprising garlic, thyme, oregano, pepper and onion powder, is sure to emulate the savory flavor of MSG and can replace MSG deliciously. If you plan to buy herb mixes from the store, make sure they are devoid of MSG.
Spices can give you a strong, rewarding flavor that can replace MSG. Shall we narrow them down to cumin and turmeric?
Cumin powder has a sweet, nutty flavor with a savory undertone. It is an indispensable flavoring agent when it comes to Indian dishes and a considerable spice alternative for MSG.
Similarly, turmeric powder also has a bitter, spicy flavor, and it is noted for its characteristic yellowish hue.
Make sure you add turmeric in low amounts while replacing MSG. Failing to do so can interfere with the color and flavor of other ingredients in your recipe.
Ogiri is a Nigerian flavoring agent made of fermented oil seeds such as sesame or egusi. It has an intense pungent smell with a thick consistency. It has a flavor that is close to cheese, miso or tofu.
Ogiri is quite useful in managing diabetes and cholesterol levels, improving eyesight and digestion. It is also used to treat those suffering from stroke and hypertension.
Although not easily available, Ogiri can be a good alternative for MSG in case you get one due to the cheesy flavor it has.
Iru or Aware is a condiment made using fermented locust beans. Similar to ogiri, Iru is a popular seasoning agent in African cuisine.
Iru has a sweet flavor that can be deemed a blend of chocolate and cheese. Therefore, it can be your last resort as an alternative for MSG.
That was extensive know-how on MSG, I guess? I am sure you got whatever that is needed to carry on with the recipes you intended using MSG.
MSG is beneficial in enhancing the flavor of your dishes. However, use it in moderate amounts, especially if you get any of the symptoms listed above.
Let me know which substitute worked for the best in place of MSG, and see you soon with another article! Take care and enjoy eating!
Frequently Asked Questions
Is MSG salt?
MSG is definitely not the table salt you use in your everyday cooking. It is a chemical compound that is the salt of glutamic acid.
However, you can use table salt, Kosher salt, or sea salt in lieu of MSG.
Is MSG bad for health?
MSG is known to set off a few bodily disturbances like nausea, headache, fatigue, and skin flushing. These symptoms make it the least favorite option for seasoning agents.
However, moderate consumption of MSG can not affect your health. (Come on, any excessively consumed ingredient has its advantages and downsides. Why corner MSG alone?)
Is MSG easy to prepare at home?
MSG is obtained as the result of the fermentation of glutamic acid. It is not as easy as it sounds, though. Also, since you have the alternatives of MSG easily available at stores, it is recommended not to try preparing it at home.
Is MSG a spice?
MSG is not a spice. It is a seasoning or flavoring agent used to perk up the flavor of your recipe in a delicious way.
Is MSG vegan-friendly?
Since MSG is made from natural plants, it is considered vegan-friendly.
Can MSG make you addicted?
MSG comprises glutamine which tickles the pleasure center in your brain. This can make you addicted, especially when you are hungry. No wonder it is called a controversial ingredient!
Is MSG avoidable?
Being a flavoring agent, MSG has its own merits. But, if you choose to eliminate MSG from your recipe, it wouldn’t bother you with the overall taste. Or do you know what’s better? Use one of the substitutes mentioned above!