Many people hear or see the words “MSG” or “monosodium glutamate” and immediately have a negative reaction. But that response is often based on unproven rumors, not facts. Here are some facts about MSG that may surprise you.
1. MSG has been used for more than a hundred years to enhance food flavors and give foods a more savory taste.
Monosodium glutamate is widely used around the world as a flavor enhancer, and is especially popular throughout Asia as an all-purpose seasoning. It’s also a popular ingredient in soul food dishes and often the “secret” ingredient in favorite barbeque sauces.
2. MSG is a safe product. It’s the sodium salt of glutamate, the most common amino acid.
MSG has been declared safe by many scientific studies and agencies worldwide. Like most any ingredient, moderation is key. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration declares that MSG is “generally regarded as safe.” They recommend it be consumed in moderate quantities, and not on an empty stomach—same as with other seasonings.
3. Glutamate is important for metabolism. Most of the glutamate we consume is used as fuel for our digestive system.
Glutamate (from the amino acid glutamine) is found in protein-containing foods such as meat, poultry, vegetables and milk. As foods ripen, their levels of free glutamate increase. That increase is what makes ripe fruits, vegetables and even cheese more flavorful. When you enjoy a ripe tomato, a sautéed mushroom or a sprinkle of Parmesan on your pasta, you are enjoying glutamate!
The body treats glutamate in exactly the same way, whether it comes from a food in which it occurs or from a seasoning in which glutamate is added.
4. MSG increases your ability to taste.
This is why MSG is a popular flavor enhancer worldwide. Foods often taste better with added MSG, which can sometimes mean you might want to eat more. Like any food or sweet treat you love, pay attention to portion size to be sure you don’t overeat.
Interestingly, MSG can also help seniors eat better. As people age, their taste buds become less sensitive. Once favorite foods can taste bland and boring. Many seniors consume too few calories and nutrients because, to these folks, food doesn’t taste the way it should. Adding MSG wakes up the flavors. Food tastes better, and seniors eat more of it, getting the calories and nutrients they need.
5. MSG is one of many glutamate-based food ingredients.
Soy sauce, hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP) and yeast extracts all contain glutamate and are used to enhance flavor in many common dishes. The human body also produces about 50 grams of free glutamate each day as part of normal metabolism. That’s almost two ounces of glutamate a day.
There are many ways to add flavor to your dish—MSG is just one of them. As with most food and ingredients, the key is balance and moderation. So whether it’s Accent or soy sauce or another flavor enhancer you choose, enjoy!
Sources used for this article:
Regal C. The Truth About MSG: A HealthCentral Explainer
Pino D. ZocDoc Blog. Is MSG A Neurotoxin? Fact Vs. Myth