What Does MSG Taste Like? A Detailed Answer

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MSG, commonly known as monosodium glutamate or Ajinomoto, is a popular flavor enhancer that has been used for over 100 years. It’s a common food additive found in Asian, Latin-American, and Caribbean cuisine. Come let’s find out what MSG tastes like, its uses, and its nutritional profile.

MSG

If you have had or love Chinese food, then you definitely know what flavors MSG brings out. Are you unaware of MSG and its taste? The answer is that MSG is a salty and savory-tasting kind of salt derived from the amino acid called glutamic acid. It is widely used to intensify and enhance umami flavors in sauces, broths, soups, and many other foods. However, if it’s added in excessive quantities, MSG can overwhelm the palate. 

MSG is classed as safe by the United States Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization. Unlike other ingredients in food items, the Food and Drug Administration does not require MSG to be included on food packaging ingredient lists. So, it is good to keep in mind that not all packaged foods containing MSG will explicitly say so on the label. 

Different cooking methods and dishes call for different quantities of MSG in addition to salt. However, MSG, in particular, works wonderfully well in certain recipes that we are going to talk about in the sections below. So, without much wait, let’s find out what the noise about MSG is all about.

What is MSG?

MSG

Our tongue detects four taste sensations that are sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. But the Japanese word umami describes a fifth taste: savory that is provided by MSG, a kind of salt derived from the amino acid called glutamic acid.

MSG was invented by Kikunae Ikeda, a Japanese chemist who discovered that seaweed had flavor-enhancing properties. While his findings back then may not have been groundbreaking at that time, MSG’s arrival in the western market turned out to be a game changer.  

MSG went on the market as Ajinomoto In 1909 as a way to make bland foods better. After spreading to other parts of Asia, MSG landed in the U.S. via Chinese restaurants and grew in popularity unmeasurable.

Glutamic acid is produced in abundance in our bodies and found in many foods we eat. These include meat, fish, mushrooms, aged parmesan cheese, eggs, dairy products, tomatoes, corn, nuts, and soy sauce. MSG is made from an amino acid called glutamic acid.

Glutamic acid is a food additive made by fermenting starch, sugar beets, sugar cane, or molasses. Those of you who have had food items with MSG surely know how addictive it is.

What Does MSG Taste Like? 

MSG really does make dishes taste delicious by enhancing their taste profiles. When placed on the tongue by itself in the raw form, MSG doesn’t have any distinct flavor. It tastes like a mild salt. But it brings out flavors unimagined when cooked. 

To put it simply, MSG doesn’t change the taste of food; rather, it adds to a rich mouthfeel. This quality adds depth to recipes, equalizes unbalanced flavors, and lengthens the flavor sensation. 

MSG also mixes with other seasonings very well. But caution has to be observed while using it in proportion to salts. To create an MSG and salt blend, a 10:1 ratio of salt to MSG would deliver the appropriate results. Adding MSG more than these ratios can overwhelm your taste buds.

The lingering taste profile of MSG is particularly valued in the snack food industry to make customers keep coming back for more. While non-vegetarians are used to savoring the umami flavors naturally. Vegetarians and vegans can also benefit from the use of MSG to elevate their dishes. 

Does MSG Make Food Taste Good?

Chances are that you have had MSG just a few minutes back but haven’t realized it. For this reason, you need to understand how it makes food taste good. 

Whether it is naturally occurring or added to foods, MSG amplifies and enhances the flavor of foods by making them taste good. It creates a unique sensation that leads to mouth-watering. The glutamate interacts with our taste buds and provides the umami, or savory, flavor.

Thus, MSG could enhance the flavor of your food in a way you will remember. However, it is to be noted that MSG contributes little or nothing to sweet or bitter foods.

Additionally, MSG should be added in restricted quantities as adding more does not enhance a food’s flavor. Overuse of MSG With other seasonings and spices may cause food to become undesirable.

What Does Raw MSG Taste Like? 

AJINOMOTO/MSG

MSG is a white crystalline powder, odorless in nature, that looks very similar to common table salt. When consumed raw, MSG doesn’t have a unique quality but tastes mildly salty from the sodium content. But when added to recipes, it delivers an umami taste which is a word used to describe a meaty flavor. It imparts a richer, longer-lasting taste to those other flavors.

Is MSG Saltier Than Salt? 

What is the difference between a great meal and a lifeless one? The right balance of spices and seasonings gives a celebration-worthy meal! MSG and salt do just that. 

MSG is a non-essential amino acid which is a sodium salt of glutamic acid. Salt, on the other hand, is a mineral purely made up of sodium chloride. Both are flavor enhancers but are quite different in their composition and taste.

So, if you are planning to swap each other in recipes, hold on and find out what taste profiles they bring to the table, respectively.

CharacteristicsSaltMSG
CompositionA mineral composed of sodium chlorideMonosodium glutamate which is a sodium salt of glutamic acid
TasteSaltyUmami- Meaty
AppearanceWhiteWhite, odorless, crystalline powder
Sodium Content39%12%
FunctionsSalt doesn’t have the essential function of MSG.MSG does have some of the functions of salt
Uses1. An essential food additive for health, as a preservative, and flavor enhancer.
2. Shows in both sweet and savory dishes.
1. Food additive for processed food and flavor enhancer for
2. Suitable for savory dishes.

How Does MSG Affect The Taste Of Food?

MSG has been one of the most intriguing food ingredients that have gained popularity for its taste profile and are very potent. Although MSG has a little flavor of its own, it lends a mouthfeel that is difficult to resist. Just a small bit of MSG can go all the way. 

Studies have also shown that the presence of added MSG in foods influences palatability, preference, and selection. Let’s take a look at how MSG affects the taste of food.

  1. MSG doesn’t bring any nutrition to the human body. However, it is an ingredient that offers a “fifth taste” you may not even know you had: umami. In addition to sweet, sour, salty, and bitter, this fifth basic taste is described as savory and somewhat meaty in taste.
  2. MSG amplifies and enhances the flavor of foods, salty and sour in particular, as the glutamate interacts with our taste buds. This unique quality makes our mouths water. It, in turn, helps improve the taste of food, and the umami flavor lingers on. Thus, while reducing overall sodium intake, MSG could enhance the flavor of your food. 
  3. MSG helps to balance out the sweet and sour flavors. In turn it mellows the natural bitterness found in certain vegetables.
  4. In foods such as meat, poultry, and seafood, MSG specially helps to bring out the best natural flavors.
  5. Although MSG is known as a great enhancer for food, overuse of MSG may result in an undesirable taste. It will overshadow the other flavors and make a dish feel too salty.
  6. In comparison to table salt, MSG contains only one-third the amount of sodium. 

5 Restaurant Chains That Use MSG In Their Food

Foods containing MSG

MSG, with its miraculous food-enhancing quality, has widely been used in the food industry by tradition or inclination. It has been a big benefit for regions where meat and meaty flavors have been out of reach for chefs. Additionally, MSG has especially helped in bringing out the flavors in vegetarian meals. 

However, over the years, the health concerns regarding MSG bothered health scientists. It hit the restaurants offering Chinese cuisine in a big way due to their excessive use of MSG. As a result, the food industry came under the radar for the use of MSG. 

If you are concerned about the intake of MSG in your meals, the list below will help you identify some famous restaurants using MSG.

1. Mc Donald’s

According to McDonald’s website, MSG is found in some of its products. The website reads, “The use of MSG is authorized by food safety authorities, and traces of it are found as a sub-ingredient in few of our products, such as McChicken, Spicy McChicken, Grand Chicken Spicy, and McArabia chicken.

Like with any other additives, we strictly abide by local regulations in terms of the type and quantity of additives allowed to ensure the quality and safety of our food at all times.”

2. Chick-fil-A

Chick-Fil-A is the largest fast food restaurant chain specializing in chicken sandwiches and salads in the United States. It uses MSG in some of its products, which include the classic chicken sandwich, spicy chicken sandwich, chicken tortilla soup, waffle fries, and chicken nuggets.

However, most of Chick-Fil-A’s grilled food is MSG-free, including the grilled chicken cool wrap and grilled nuggets. So if you’re concerned about MSG, you can enjoy Chick-Fil-A’s delicious food by choosing their MSG-free options.

3. KFC

As detailed on the company website, KFC uses MSG in many of its food items. Some of them include colonel’s crispy strips, KFC country fried steak, KFC original chicken and original recipe filet, popcorn chicken, KFC potato wedges, and more.  The famous KFC hot wings, KFC green Beans, KFC grilled chicken, and hidden valley also have MSG added to them.

Apart from the above, KFC also uses MSG in some of its sauces like Colonel’s Sauce, Creamy Ranch Dipping Sauce Cup, and The Original Ranch Fat-Free Dressing. 

4. Texas Roadhouse

Texas Roadhouse is another fast-food chain with a range of southern cuisine items. Their official website claims to use MSG. The menu includes items like Texas-sized steaks and ribs, chicken, fish, and burgers, along with a list of sides and appetizers which uses seasonings containing MSG.

5. Popeyes

Customers have been fans of Popeyes fried chicken ever since 1972. And the taste of that deliciousness has been achieved by the use of monosodium glutamate. However, the chain is now planning to get rid of the flavor enhancer by the end of 2025. According to a statement from the company, “We are currently testing all-clean ingredients in our batter, breading, and sandwiches in a few U.S. markets, and we expect to be on track to an all-clean menu nationwide by 2025.”

While some restaurants mention the use of MSG in their food, not all mention it explicitly, and manufacturers are not required to list MSG as an ingredient in certain cases. Hence, they may not reveal the presence of MSG in any products necessarily. If you are intolerant to MSG, it’s always best to inquire about its use before eating outside.

How To Cook With MSG For Best Taste?

With so many promising qualities, I’m sure you are eager to use MSG to derive the best flavors from your dishes. So, let’s figure out where MSG works best in cooking. 

  1. To use MSG for the best taste, you can add it to recipes before or during the cooking process, along with salt or other seasonings. 
  2. In terms of quantity, MSG does contain some salt in it but is not as salty as regular table salt. So, when using it in combination with salt, it is best, to begin with, a small amount of monosodium glutamate and increase its quantity as needed. A 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of monosodium glutamate can amp up a dish for four to six people. 
  3. Always keep in mind that MSG is not a one-stop miracle ingredient. Too much MSG will result in an undesirable flavor and will certainly not improve the taste of food that lacks flavors.
  4. While MSG does wonders in savory food, it may or may not contribute to bitter or sweet food.
  5. If you plan to replace salt with MSG in the recipe, you can substitute ⅓ of the salt in your recipe with MSG.
  6. Thinking of foods that would particularly benefit from the use of MSG? Try adding some MSG in soups, stews, gravies, stocks, broths, dressings, sauces, vegetables, meats, seafood, and poultry for a burst of flavors!

How To Store MSG The Right Way?

Ajinomoto/ MSG

After having soaked up all that information on MSG, I’m sure MSG has intrigued you enough to be tried once in your next recipe to prove the facts about its taste profile in this article true. But after using it once, you will need to store it the right way to preserve it in its best state for further use. So, to do that, keep in mind the following two steps.

1. Storage

MSG should be kept in a tightly sealed container to preserve it from getting spoiled due to moisture. If done so, it can last for a year or more. You can use an empty jam or pickle jars for this purpose. But before you do that, make sure to wash the jar thoroughly and keep it for drying. No moisture should be left behind before placing MSG in the jar.

2. Temperature

Temperature plays an important role in keeping MSG in its best state. Just like table salt, MSG should be stored at room temperature in a cool and dry place, away from heat and light. This helps MSG to retain its composition and taste.

Nutritional Content Of MSG

Glutamate is the purest taste of umami flavors. While it brings nothing new to the diet, it is used for elevating flavors. However, glutamate is important for a healthy metabolism when consumed in appropriate quantities. 

We consume between 10g and 20g of glutamate from our diet naturally, and less than 10% of glutamate is derived from seasonings. Our gut has numerous glutamate receptors that derive the necessary amounts from natural foods.

Although the debate over MSG and its health hazards has been a famous topic of concern, researchers prove that the use of MSG in moderate quantities is recognized as safe. But caution should be observed when taking MSG in higher intake.

It may lead to increased heart rate, the risk of heart attack, and a negative impact on liver health and fertility.

NutrientsAmount Per 1 g
Calories0
Total Fat0
Sodium 125 mg5%
Carbohydrates0
Protein0

Conclusion

MSG is the salt form of the amino acid glutamate that is used to bring out the best flavor in dishes. That being said, you don’t need to stock up on MSG. If you are looking for umami flavors in your meals, you can add it naturally by using tomatoes, parmesan cheese, meats, peas, corn, mushrooms, and asparagus.

Have you ever thought about why your pasta and pizza offer you so much deliciousness? Thanks to the cheese in it! Although MSG was considered a toxic ingredient during the 1960s, current studies dispel the myth. MSG is considered to be safe when consumed in moderate amounts.

When using MSG, one must keep in mind the amount of its quantity being added to recipes. While it elevates the taste profiles of many savory recipes, it will not do any good to recipes with poor quality flavors. Another point to keep in mind while consuming MSG is to keep an eye on your sodium intake.

Frequently Answered Questions (FAQs)

Is MSG harmful?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified MSG as a food ingredient that’s generally recognized as safe when consumed in moderation.

How much sodium does MSG provide to food?

When compared to salt, MSG contains relatively little sodium. In the average diet, MSG contributes just about 1% to 2% of total salt. 

If salt and MSG taste different, how can salt be a substitute for MSG?

Salt only tastes salty, while MSG helps enhance the original flavor of the dishes to make them more savory. But salt can be an instant substitute because it is easy to find. You can make the salt taste more like MSG when added with other spices and some sugar.

What is the relationship between MSG and umami?

MSG has an umami taste. The discovery of the umami taste receptor on the tongue resulted in umami as the fifth primary flavor.

How do you know if food has MSG in it?

Most of the food manufacturers declare when MSG is added, either by name or by its food additive code number 621, in the ingredient list on the label of most packaged foods. However, it is not mandatory to list it on the ingredient list. Hence, if you experience lingering food tastes, chances are that MSG was used to increase the taste appeal of that item.

Does junk food have MSG?

Most of the processed and fast-food items contain MSG. Fast-food chains like McDonald’s, Chick-fill-A, and KFC use MSG to season menu items like fried chicken, chicken nuggets, and fries. MSG is also naturally present in many foods, including some cheeses, meats, and vegetables.

What foods are high in MSG?

Condiments like ketchup, mayonnaise, barbecue sauce, soy sauce, mustard, and salad dressings have been known to contain MSG to boost flavor. Many types of chips and related snacks also include MSG to enhance their savory flavors.

Why is MSG so good?

MSG provides more flavor with less sodium by interacting with our taste buds, giving foods the umami, or savory, flavor. Thus, it tastes good.

Is MSG a natural product?

MSG is a popular flavor enhancer derived from L-glutamic acid, a naturally occurring amino acid that’s necessary for the creation of proteins. It also occurs naturally in many foods, such as tomatoes and cheeses.

Are Ajinomoto and MSG the same?

Ajinomoto or MSG (MSG or monosodium glutamate) are basically the same things. The name of the product is MSG and the Japanese company which makes it is named Ajinomoto.

How much is MSG too much?

Most research suggests eating more than 3 grams of added MSG can have some adverse effects.

Is MSG vegan friendly?

Is MSG vegan? Yes. MSG is made from a fermented plant.

What are the symptoms of MSG intolerance?

MSG sensitivity symptoms cause bloating, gas, headaches, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and tingling skin sensation.

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