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Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) in Home Cooking


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#1 Chris Amirault

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Posted 12 January 2008 - 01:49 PM

One of the things that you learn when you pick up non-US Chinese cookbooks, or even some that have been published in the US a while back, is that monosodium glutamate (or MSG) is included in many, many recipes. It's a bit like salt in US cookbooks: most savory dishes have a pinch or so. I was reminded of this when I saw the following photograph from fengyi's Western New Year in China topic:

Posted Image
Note the INCREDIBLY large bag of MSG from Tescos!!!
They love this stuff - their bag of salt was only 200g, but the MSG bag was 900g and boy!! was it sprinkled on with a lavish hand. Having said that, the jiaozi were incredibly tasty - so it does work!  :biggrin:

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So, today, while I'm doing my shopping at the Chinese American Market in Cranston RI, I spied a bag and grabbed it for tonight's Sichuan meal. And now I'm wondering about how to use it, where to use it, and the like.

Please note: this is not a topic to debate the science of MSG's effect on humans, the ethics of including it in your food if diners don't know, and so on. It's a topic devoted to using it to best effect in your cooking -- Chinese and otherwise.

So how do folks use MSG? Do you measure? Pinch n toss? What sorts of dishes are best for it? What sorts aren't?
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#2 dougal

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Posted 12 January 2008 - 03:42 PM

Tesco ?!?

I've never even seen MSG (as such) in a UK Tesco!


I don't knowingly use it, as such. Though it seems to be a fairly common constituent of "steak seasoning" and such preparations - which I don't use either.
Doesn't it occur naturally in Soy sauce? (I do use that occasionally.)
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#3 TarteTatin

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Posted 12 January 2008 - 04:03 PM

We have a new Penzey's spice shop in Philly, and husband spied some MSG and bought it.
You should have seen the clerk's face when we went to check out! Even she asked what we use it for.

Anyway, I am indeed, the wrong person to be writing here. My husband is the cook, and I know he uses it in many dishes as a flavor enhancer. Not just for Asian cooking.
I'll ask him and hopefully reply soon!
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#4 kbjesq

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Posted 12 January 2008 - 04:05 PM

So how do folks use MSG? Do you measure? Pinch n toss? What sorts of dishes are best for it? What sorts aren't?

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I have the same questions and I look forward to reading answers from those knowledgeable in the use of MSG.

Many of my Cuban friends put "Goya Sazon Seasoning" in everything. I finally bought a packet and the first listed ingredient was MSG. I was afraid to use it - not knowing how much to use and being, candidly, a little "afraid" of MSG - but finally last weekend I added about 1/2 tsp. each to some chicken dishes (pot pie, chicken and dumplings, chicken soup) and it did seem to noticeably enhance the flavors.

#5 Anna N

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Posted 12 January 2008 - 04:10 PM

Many years ago I used MSG which was sold here as Accent. I stopped using it when the fuss started and have never gone back though I did drag it up from the basement a while back when it seemed less threatening but still haven't used it.

It was hugely promoted here by the manufacturer and I believe the ads included ways to use it. All I can recall though is that I used to add a pinch to frozen peas when I was cooking them and I felt it did enhance the flavour.

Don't know if it is still sold in supermarkets here but will keep my eyes open.
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#6 Beanie

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Posted 12 January 2008 - 04:25 PM

Like Anna said, everyone used Accent when I was growing up in NYC, then stopped when all the fuss began. I haven't tried it since then, but whenever I see MSG at the Asian market, I pause and consider buying it. Maybe next time.
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#7 qrn

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Posted 12 January 2008 - 05:09 PM

You can buy it a Kroger/city market/ kingsoopers etc, in the spice section. Its a Kroger brand.
I have used it in a couple of sausage recipes that called for it, and didn't die...
I did not do a blind A-B test so I am not sure if it did any good...
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#8 TarteTatin

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Posted 12 January 2008 - 05:18 PM

Ever since I read "Salt - A World History" by Mark Kurlansky, and his account of MSG production, I've lost the American prejudice against this flavor enhancer. I use it in dry rubs for ribs, in soups, on some vegetables and occasionally on meats and fish. In all cases neither myself nor my guests have suffered any ill effects.
As the expression goes: You mileage may vary.
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#9 TheSwede

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Posted 12 January 2008 - 05:22 PM

Just add a pinch or two to any dish you feel needs it (especially chinese dishes of course).

If you taste the MSG directly (won't kill you, promise) you will notice that it hasn't really got a flavour per se, but rather just a "savory back ground note".

#10 snowangel

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Posted 12 January 2008 - 05:36 PM

There's a local dim sum joint that makes a most wonderful squid dish (braised, I'm sure, but served in little bowls in steamer thingies). Finally, I screwed up the courage to ask what was in the dish. The young waitress returned from the kitchen and said "squid, garlic, soup stuff made with chicken feet, and MSG. But don't tell anyone we use MSG." I think I'd better get a bag or a container and experiment. I've tasted tonight's braise, and I'm thinking I wished I had some MSG.

When during the cooking process is it added?
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#11 Kent Wang

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Posted 12 January 2008 - 06:05 PM

There's not much of a trick to using it. Just add a pinch or teaspoon-ful. Add it in at the same time as salt, usually in about one-quarter or less the quantity of salt. That's how my mom used it until we abandoned using MSG sometime in the mid-1990s.

I'm curious if people also use it in Western cooking.

#12 Fengyi

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Posted 12 January 2008 - 07:21 PM

I agree with Kent - usually it's used just as salt is - to taste and sprinkled on. Though, I must say that it seems to be added towards the end of the cooking process rather than the beginning.

It's also popular here in the form of 'Chicken Powder' which is the same idea as that Cuban Seasoning that was mentioned. It's stock powder used like salt and the main ingredient is MSG. I love it! It really adds an lovely flavour.

There's a dish I was taught - sliced up raw red cabbage, red onions, corriander/cilantro, cucumber, green thin-skinned peppers (NOT BELL!), tomatoes. Dress with salt, white pepper, MSG/chicken powder and sesame oil. Amazing! and the MSG makes ALL the difference! :biggrin:


And yes, Dougal, Teso's does have LOTS of MSG here in Beijing....though it's all Value line...I've yet to see a Tesco's Finest MSG :raz:

EDITED to add: It's also great added to cold noodle salads and other cold dishes (at teh last moment) and I also use it in the water to blanch Chinese green veggies.

Edited by Fengyi, 12 January 2008 - 07:24 PM.

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#13 jeffreys1

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Posted 12 January 2008 - 09:40 PM

Put a pinch in tuna or egg salad. Add a little to meatloaf or meatball mixtures. I also add a bit to most chicken or beef based soups.

Edited by jeffreys1, 12 January 2008 - 09:40 PM.


#14 Ben Hong

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Posted 12 January 2008 - 10:07 PM

I'm curious if people also use it in Western cooking.

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Every time you eat a flavoured potato chip, a Cheese Doodle, a tortilla chip, bbq peanuts, gravy mix, most canned broths and stock, all canned soups and stews, pepperoni, kielbasa, "flavoured" sausages, most frozen dinners and I dare say, most processed meats like turkey, ham, "roast" beef slices, luncheon meats, you would get added msg. Get the picture? You would probably get more msg in a small bag of bbq flavoured chips than in two Chinese dishes. It occurs naturally in high concentrations in cheeses , especially parmesan; in all meats and fish, soy products, seaweed, etc. It is all pervasive and natural folks, and just because you don't use it in cooking does not mean that you don't eat it. The Japanese coined a word for this "fifth" taste...UMAMI.

Chinese restaurant syndrome indeed!!!! :raz:

#15 Restorer

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Posted 12 January 2008 - 11:15 PM

I find that I'm fairly sensitive to the taste of excess MSG; not sensitive in a way that I would get a bad reaction, but the same way I'm sensitive to salt - I have a lower taste tolerance for it. The only times I use my shaker of Accent MSG is when I feel like my food (usually a liquid-based food, like soup, stew, or chili) is lacking umami body. Often I find that adding tomato paste results in a better flavor, but if I'm out of tomato paste or don't want to open a whole can, I'll add a shake of MSG and some vinegar.
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#16 ChefCrash

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Posted 13 January 2008 - 03:01 AM

So how do folks use MSG? Do you measure? Pinch n toss? What sorts of dishes are best for it? What sorts aren't?


This site has recipes using, as well as info on how to use MSG.

#17 nhamilto

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Posted 13 January 2008 - 09:50 AM

I use it all the time. I think it is most useful in savory dishes; soups, stews, pot pies etc.

The only savoy dishes it doesn't really help are ones that already include high levels of glutamate.

If you are in doubt about its uses just place a bit in your mouth and think of the things that could use a bit of its flavor.

As far as buying msg its is commonly sold under the Accent name in supermarkets. I just a one pound packet to my online spice orders when I run low. You will pay about the same for a pound as your would for the two ounce Accent shaker.

Edited by nhamilto, 13 January 2008 - 09:57 AM.


#18 Chris Amirault

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Posted 13 January 2008 - 11:29 AM

Decided I should give a test from Janet's eGCI Taste and Texture course a go:

Umami

First, run out and buy some monosodium glutamate. The most widely available form of MSG that I know of is Ac'cent; you should be able to find it at any grocery store. (I know, you're thinking, "MSG? Is she serious?" Yes, I do know about everything written concerning MSG. I've read the scary stories. The deal is, it's really difficult for the average consumer to isolate glutamate any other way, and I honestly think a little monosodium glutamate in the diet is not harmful. However, if you're concerned or you think otherwise, by all means skip this experiment.) Next, dissolve a small amount into a cupful of hot water (hotter than tepid, but cool enough to sip without scalding your tongue). Say, half a teaspoon of Ac'cent to a cup. Sip it and think about it. What's it taste like? What's it feel like on your tongue?


I put a few grains of the MSG onto my tongue and swirled 'em around. I'd agree with Janet: it's more of "a unique combination of taste and sensation" than just a taste. The umami is clearly part of what makes, say, a good pho stock good, but when you have just the MSG you can taste the difference between the mouthfeel of gelatin in a well-bodied stock and the roundness of taste that comes from using enough meat, some mushrooms, and so on in that stock.

I sprinkled a bit of the MSG into Fuchsia Dunlop's kung pao chicken from Land of Plenty last night, and it bound the different components very nicely, making the whole far more balanced than usual.
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#19 Dejah

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Posted 13 January 2008 - 01:32 PM

I use MSG in everything savory... a pinch and it enhances the flavour.

For stir-fries, I add salt to my wok when the oil is hot, but MSG always 3/4 way through the cooking process.

With meat that requires other cooking methods, I work a little MSG in with the salt or whatever other seasoning I would use during prep.

Soups, I add a little MSG when I taste it just before serving - just as I would taste for salt.

I grew up eating food with MSG all my life and cook with it as my parents have done. I always thought it was a must in Chinese cooking. It was a surprise to me when my Chinese students all say, " It's not good for you! My family never uses it." Really?! :shock: :laugh:
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#20 BarbaraY

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Posted 13 January 2008 - 06:17 PM

I still use it occasionally when I have a dish that just doen't seem to have any oomph. It really helps.
My dad always used it in his BBQ sauce.
I had a room mate that would have had a severe allergic reaction had she seen me put it in the food but she porked out on flavored chips every day. Go figure.

Edited by BarbaraY, 13 January 2008 - 06:17 PM.


#21 heidih

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Posted 13 January 2008 - 07:38 PM

I have not used the straight white stuff, but I will admit to using the chicken bouillon powder that is pretty much salt & MSG. The current one is a Nestle product under the Maggi label marketed as "Tu Sabor Latino" (your Latin flavor?) I also use something touted as an MSG substitute called "Mushroom seasoning" from Taiwan which contains mushroom powder and extract, but also sodium 5'-guanylate which "googles" as something similar to MSG. Just a sprinkle will bring a dish from flat to rounded. I do use homemade stocks and broths, but sometimes there is something "missing" and this stuff turns the tide.

#22 _john

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Posted 13 January 2008 - 07:58 PM

i only use it in Japanese fried rice yakimeshi.

#23 nakji

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Posted 13 January 2008 - 09:11 PM

I always keep a small bag on hand for enhancing soups, spaghetti bog sauce, stew, etc. I add it at the end of cooking, along with salt or sugar to adjust the seasoning. Doesn't it add a bit of gloss, as well - or is that just me?

I may have told this story elsewhere on eG., but when I first moved to Korea, the teacher I was replacing was showing me how to make some basic Korean dishes. We were making kimchi jigae, and we got to the end, where it was boiling furiously, and he pulled a small bag out of the cupboard, and said "At the end, you put in a big spoon of this powder," and I said, "You mean a big spoon of MSG?" and he looked at it with horror and dropped it on the counter - "MSG?????" :biggrin:

This was also the same guy who took me to the market and held up a persimmon and said triumphantly, "What do you think this is?" I, of course, said, "It's a persimmon." And he was shocked - "You don't think it's a tomato?" he asked, severely disappointed. "Did you think it was a tomato?" I asked, and he deflated and said, "I made a pot of chili with them the first week I was here!"

#24 phatj

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Posted 13 January 2008 - 10:10 PM

Persimmon chili sounds good!

#25 feedmec00kies

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Posted 14 January 2008 - 09:27 AM

I always thought it was a must in Chinese cooking.

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I once found an article about the history of MSG doing research for a food-related anthropology project. (I can't link to it because I got it through Proquest or some other paid archive service my college subscribed to, unfortunately, though I have a copy somewhere...). It's interesting that it's so commonly associated with Chinese cooking because it was invented by the Japanese... pretty much just bad luck that the association was made.

I've been watching this thread because I've sort of contemplated buying MSG, but... well as chrisamirault said, I wasn't sure what to do with it; I think my (Chinese) mother avoided it with the whole scare. I guess I've used things that contained MSG (like boullion cubes) with the purpose of adding that "umami" flavor, but I guess it was one additional seasoning/ingredient to fill my cupboard with that I didn't really know if I needed, and as a result just didn't buy. That said, I think I'll go out and buy a smallish container of the stuff and experiment. I've always been kind of curious about the stuff...

Edited by feedmec00kies, 14 January 2008 - 09:29 AM.

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#26 Anna N

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Posted 14 January 2008 - 10:35 AM

Does anyone know the shelf-life of MSG powder with respect to its potency?
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#27 Toliver

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Posted 14 January 2008 - 11:48 AM

Does anyone know the shelf-life of MSG powder with respect to its potency?

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Good question! I have a jar in my spice cupboard that I can't recall buying. :huh:
I made meatloaf last night and now I'm thinking the MSG would have added that little bit of something extra to make it taste even better.

edited to add: Is MSG always something to cook with? Has anyone sprinkled it on after plating? Or does it's umami effect only take place when cooked?

Edited by Toliver, 14 January 2008 - 01:31 PM.


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#28 Dejah

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Posted 14 January 2008 - 02:35 PM

Does anyone know the shelf-life of MSG powder with respect to its potency?

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Good question! I have a jar in my spice cupboard that I can't recall buying. :huh:
I made meatloaf last night and now I'm thinking the MSG would have added that little bit of something extra to make it taste even better.
edited to add: Is MSG always something to cook with? Has anyone sprinkled it on after plating? Or does it's umami effect only take place when cooked?

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As to whether MSG loses its potency, I don't think so. It's not like herbs.

MSG should not be added after plating! :shock: It must be mixed in and cooked with the food before plating. It is meant to enhance and not upfront flavour.

MSG comes in different "sizes" - some look like tiny strands of crystal, and others may be fine powder form. It's cheapest to buy in packets from Asian stores. Accent used to come in small shakers and they were very expensive!
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#29 Prawncrackers

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Posted 14 January 2008 - 03:07 PM

My mother would disown me if she thought i used MSG in my cooking, it's definitely cheating in her book. For that reason I've never used it and have never found the temptation to either. It would take all the fun out of buying good ingredients and preparing them with care and skill.

I get enough MSG eating out, i don't feel the need to replicate that restaurant taste at home.

#30 Chris Amirault

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Posted 14 January 2008 - 03:12 PM

Why would it "take all the fun out of buying good ingredients and preparing them with care and skill"? I don't understand why this particular ingredient inspires such a comment. Would you say the same about salt?
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