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Monosodium Glutamate/MSG: The Topic


Fat Guy
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The most likely explanation for many of the serious symptoms and diseases many people attribute to MSG poisoning and the lack of confirmation of these health problems in controlled studies is:

The symptoms are pyschosomatic responses and the connection with serious disease is due to misinformation and irrational fear of MSG.

It is thus I have been trying to explain from my first post that MSG is added to a lot of stuff. And where one is not aware, one does not seem to react.

But certainly there are reactions our bodies will have after eating MSG. But those are not always reactions that we may ever know if we do not know that MSG has been added into something.

It is important to understand the psychosomatic connection of many food allergies.

My own allergy with Chinese food was like that. If I do not worry myself too much, I hardly feel as much pain. In fact Ed Schoenfeld may have unknown to him, helped me understand MSG and how it really cannot bother my system as much as I allowed it to before I met him.

And those needing a low sodium diets should certainly stay away from MSG. One or two times will not make much of a difference. But it is not a wise thing to indulge in for the longer run.

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Liquids containing MSG are quicker than solids in inducing an effect to those of us that do react.

But most of what MSG does to a human body may not necessarily be picked up by a diner. A lot of the symptoms are part of what is considered the silent killer (high blood pressure), and these symptoms are very different from the ones most people seem to have. Those are a puzzle to doctors for the most part. They are still not sure how much credit can be assigned to MSG for people that do get Chinese Food Symptoms.

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Suvir's mention of many non-Chinese restaurants using MSG adds to my suspicion that my allergy, whatever it is (although the symptoms are a definite subset of those cited in the Chinese restaurant syndrome description) is not to MSG but to something else: some ingredient used occasionally in Chinese dishes. It's certainly not psychosomatic as it's a very rare occurrence and I never expect it until it happens. I'm interested that MSG has still not been confirmed as the cause. You'd think it would be relatively easy to do that if it were responsible.

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For Chinese cuisine. Is MSG only utilized during the cooking process of Chinese food? I've never seen a MSG shaker on the tables, of Chinese restaurants from my memory(as opposed to salt & pepper shakers at restaurant tables almost everywhere). I don't think I've ever seen packets of MSG, for customers of take-out Chinese food.

---------------

Steve

Edited by SteveW (log)
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If you put salt and MSG side by side I could tell the difference in a moment by tasting them. I believe that MSG definitely has a taste and I'm comfortable with using the Japanese word umami as a word that denotes this flavor. I think having a word like this is a very sensible idea.

Salt has a very easy to recognize taste for most of us. I could tell it apart from most other things. I guess I might have better phrased my question as could one easily taste the difference between msg and some tasteless powder? I don't recall tasting pure msg, so I didn't know if it had a taste. It doesn't really matter what we call the taste, until we know the taste. Salty would be meaningless until I had tasted salt.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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For Chinese cuisine. Is MSG only utilized during the cooking process of Chinese food? I've never seen a MSG shaker on the tables, of Chinese restaurants from my memory(as opposed to salt & pepper shakers at restaurant tables almost everywhere). I don't think I've ever seen packets of MSG, for customers of take-out Chinese food.

I don't believe it's common for msg to be used at the table. It's generally used in the kitchen. That said, I recall having a meal in Tokyo where the waiter put a small scoop of a white powder in our bowl before filling it with broth. My wife asked if it was msg and we were told it was. She asked to have her soup without the msg. I'm not sure if one could as easily add msg to a solid food as easily as to a liquid.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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For Chinese cuisine. Is MSG only utilized during the cooking process of Chinese food? I've never seen a MSG shaker on the tables, of Chinese restaurants from my memory(as opposed to salt & pepper shakers at restaurant tables almost everywhere). I don't think I've ever seen packets of MSG, for customers of take-out Chinese food.

I don't believe it's common for msg to be used at the table. It's generally used in the kitchen. That said, I recall having a meal in Tokyo where the waiter put a small scoop of a white powder in our bowl before filling it with broth. My wife asked if it was msg and we were told it was. She asked to have her soup without the msg. I'm not sure if one could as easily add msg to a solid food as easily as to a liquid.

Yes one can add MSG to solid foods just as easily.

One treats MSG as one would salt.

There is no difference.

MSG has a unique taste and it certainly is not tasteless.

You may want to try some Bux, you will realize how it is just as important as any other ingredient.

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This all has me wondering if the reason that some of my stir-fries, etc., made at home suffer from a lack of MSG. If this is the reason that I find them bland. I too suffered from something I ascribed to MSG reaction and stopped eating at Chinese restaurants except those that claimed "no added MSG". Again, it is interesting to know that I may be consuming much more MSG than I had thought if it used so widely.

I know for a while, many years ago, lots of us were sprinkling MSG on just about everything we cooked and we swore it made things taste better - i.e., more intense. I still have a shaker of MSG that must be at least a kazillion years old but I never use it. Hmmmmmmmmm.

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

My 2004 eG Blog

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This all has me wondering if the reason that some of my stir-fries, etc., made at home suffer from a lack of MSG.  If this is the reason that I find them bland.  I too suffered from something I ascribed to MSG reaction and stopped eating at Chinese restaurants except those that claimed "no added MSG".  Again, it is interesting to know that I may be consuming much more MSG than I had thought if it used so widely.

I know for a while, many years ago, lots of us were sprinkling MSG on just about everything we cooked and we swore it made things taste better - i.e., more intense.  I still have a shaker of MSG that must be at least a kazillion years old but I never use it.  Hmmmmmmmmm.

Why do you not try doing a test at home... Next time you make pasta or whatever else, add just a tiny amount of MSG into it.

See if you have any reaction.... and if not, you know it is not what you react to.

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Trillum - Are you saying that the Italians add MSG or other glutamate(s) to Parmesan cheese, or that it occurs or forms naturally?

Can we actually taste glutamates? For years it's been advertised as a flavor enhancer with the implication it had no taste of it's own, but that in some mysterious way it made other flavors stand out. Monosodiumglutamate is the one that's sold for cooiking. How does it differ from others as it seems there are others. Have scientists studied differences between glutamates that are added and those that occur naturally in the cooking or preparation of a product?

No, no, the consortium would really frown on adding MSG (in other words, free glutamate, it separates from the sodium ion in solution ie, when it gets wet in food) to Parmesan cheese. I'm saying it naturally occurs in significant amounts in many aged foods (scientists will call it decay, not aging), including parmesan and other grating cheeses (aged gouda...yum) and meat products like aged steaks or salami.

As for actually tasting glutamates, many can, but whether a specific person would depends on the receptors they have in their tongue specifically and also what else is around when the glutamate hits them (some mononucleic acids like IMP and GMP increase the response to glutamate, curiously enough, they're also present in aging cheeses and meats). Just like any other taste there will be hypotasters and non-tasters. Hypotasters can taste the umami flavor in more dilute solutions of msg then regular tasters. The biological sigificance of tasting umami (from the japanese umai = delicious) is considered really high, right up there with sweet.

By others I'm not sure what you mean. Do you mean D-glutamate vs. L-glutamate, or various salts of glutamate? There is no difference between the added free glutamate and what occurs naturally in a product, they're the same thing, free glutamate. There is a difference in what else is in a naturally aged food and a solution that just contains msg. In an aged food you'll get lots of other flavor goodies like I mentioned above (IMP and GMP). There are tons of papers coming out on the biology of taste, I'd be happy to recommend a few reviews if you're really interested, but it might be too technical for most foodies.

regards,

trillium

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Truillium

I suspect it would quickly get too technical for my interest but a little knowledge of a generally misunderstood subject is most welcome. I think your last post was quite helpful so far. Thanks. You answered my questions very nicely. I assumed there was no added glutamate in cheeses such as parmesan, but I wanted the clarification. Of course the consumer will always have the lingering suspicion that additives are never the same as substances occurring in our food more naturally, but chemicals are chemicals. As you note, natural occurrances in aged foods exist in a complex mix of other flavors and simply adding msg may not achieve the same results. On the other hand, if natural combinations were fully satisfying we wouldn't have developed the complex rage of recipes we have as humans. We are always combining ingredients and adding a dash of this or that to improve the final flavor as the food is served.

The interesting thing is that msg is commonly used in at least Japan and China, but has never made great inroads in western cuisine. I've yet to run across it in any quality recipe or cookbook. I'm not aware it is used in fine restaurants, but if it is used, perhaps some cook among our members will clue us in on that. To the best of my knowledge msg has largely been marketed under a single brand name in the US. My impression is that it's something we see as needed on a cheap piece of meat from the supermarket, but not something we'd use on a nice cut from an expensive butcher. When we see it on a the label of canned food, we assume it's compensating for the lack of real flavor. I'm not promoting this image. It's one I think our society has. Do others here have a different image of msg?

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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When I was a little girl and MSG was in much wider use in Chinese restaurants, I always associated a particular, peculiar tingling in my face with "Chinese food."  It certainly didn't stop me from loving Chinese food, but I never had the sensation with any other cuisine.  I haven't had the sensation in many years.  Restaurants now state on the menu that they do not use MSG.  While I do not discount the placebo effect of the announcement, years ago,  I used to feel the tingling unprompted by any knowlege of what might or might not be in the food.  I think certain people are, indeed, sensitve to MSG.

I wonder if the restaurant used Sichuan Peppercorns?

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This all has me wondering if the reason that some of my stir-fries, etc., made at home suffer from a lack of MSG.  If this is the reason that I find them bland.  I too suffered from something I ascribed to MSG reaction and stopped eating at Chinese restaurants except those that claimed "no added MSG".  Again, it is interesting to know that I may be consuming much more MSG than I had thought if it used so widely.

I know for a while, many years ago, lots of us were sprinkling MSG on just about everything we cooked and we swore it made things taste better - i.e., more intense.  I still have a shaker of MSG that must be at least a kazillion years old but I never use it.  Hmmmmmmmmm.

Why do you not try doing a test at home... Next time you make pasta or whatever else, add just a tiny amount of MSG into it.

See if you have any reaction.... and if not, you know it is not what you react to.

Knowing that I am apparently ingesting MSG whether I choose to or not, I'm might be willing to give it a try. But with an anaphylactic (severe and life-threatening) reaction to crab on two occasions, I'm always a little leery of such experiments. Nothing on earth would persuade me to try crab again - I won't even touch the fork that has touched it! And darn, I used to love crab. Apparently, and I learned this very late in life as my mother died when I was a child, she also was allergic to crab. I tell you this so you know it was not a learned response. No other shellfish, no other allergies of any kind for either of us - strange....

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

My 2004 eG Blog

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Glutamate is a neurotransmitter that occurs normally in the brain – the peaks marked Glx in this NMR spectrum represent both glutamate and the closely related glutamine.

noc00291f1.jpg

I guess it’s conceivable that additional glutamate could affect peripheral nerve function but I’m a little skeptical given the quantities involved.

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I guess it’s conceivable that additional glutamate could affect peripheral nerve function but I’m a little skeptical given the quantities involved.

But given that a single glass of alcohol can induce a grand-mal seizure in certain individuals (the number of people affected is minute - but I witnessed two such when I worked as an EEG tech) and I'm not talking about seizures induced by alcoholism but a sensitivity to alcohol, then I think it conceivable that even a minute amount can affect some individuals adversely. Similarly, sugar or chemicals very similar, occur in the tissue of human, but to diabetics, raise the level of sugar compounds above a certain threshold and they are in deep doo-doo.

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

My 2004 eG Blog

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I'd be happy to recommend a few reviews if you're really interested, but it might be too technical for most foodies.

Please please please.

It's definitely possible to be allergic (not a true allergy, but a genetic inability to metabolize) to certain amino acids. You know how it says on the Diet Coke can "phenylketonurics: contains phenylalanine"? Phenylketonurics are missing an enzyme in the phenylalanine metabolism pathway that causes them to accumulate toxic byproducts of this process. All newborns in the US are tested for phenylketonuria and if you've got it, you have to avoid eating too much phenylalanine while you're young (you can't avoid it completely), or it can cause severe brain damage and many other symptoms.

What's important to note here is that it's not just the added phenylalanine in Diet Coke that triggers the syndrome: it's any phenylalanine, including that which occurs naturally in many high-protein foods. Similarly, there is no difference between the free glutamate in foods and added MSG. You would have to eat a stunning amount of added MSG to make up a substantial fraction of the natural free glutamate the typical eater gets. And double-blind clinical studies have failed to replicate "Chinese restaurant syndrome" symptoms even among people who identify themselves as MSG-sensitive.

That doesn't mean MSG can't be overused like any seasoning, and it doesn't mean it's safe for the small percentage of people whose blood pressure is sodium-sensitive.

Matthew Amster-Burton, aka "mamster"

Author, Hungry Monkey, coming in May

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I guess it’s conceivable that additional glutamate could affect peripheral nerve function but I’m a little skeptical given the quantities involved.

But given that a single glass of alcohol can induce a grand-mal seizure in certain individuals (the number of people affected is minute - but I witnessed two such when I worked as an EEG tech) and I'm not talking about seizures induced by alcoholism but a sensitivity to alcohol, then I think it conceivable that even a minute amount can affect some individuals adversely. Similarly, sugar or chemicals very similar, occur in the tissue of human, but to diabetics, raise the level of sugar compounds above a certain threshold and they are in deep doo-doo.

Alcohol is different since there’s none in the body normally. Glutamate exists in the body in quite high concentrations (I’d guess about millimolar from the spectrum) and the body tolerates it well. (Indeed, it’s necessary.) Diabetics only get into trouble when they eat relatively large quantities of carbs. So I’m doubtful that a tiny bit extra glutamate could cause a measurable reaction. I’m not saying it’s impossible (maintaining precise glutamate levels might be critical, for example) but my hunch is that it’s unlikely.

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I'd be happy to recommend a few reviews if you're really interested, but it might be too technical for most foodies.

Please please please.

It's definitely possible to be allergic (not a true allergy, but a genetic inability to metabolize) to certain amino acids. You

Please please please what???

I can't figure out why you're quoting me. I thought I was talking about the molecular biology of taste and how there is a lot of free glutamate in things we eat besides Chinese food. I'm no physician, and would never claim that you couldn't be allergic to anything. My offer for reviews was for the ones done by research scientists on G-protein coupled taste receptors found on tongues and nothing more.

regards,

trillium

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I'd be happy to recommend a few reviews if you're really interested, but it might be too technical for most foodies.

Please please please.

It's definitely possible to be allergic (not a true allergy, but a genetic inability to metabolize) to certain amino acids. You

Please please please what???

I can't figure out why you're quoting me. I thought I was talking about the molecular biology of taste and how there is a lot of free glutamate in things we eat besides Chinese food. I'm no physician, and would never claim that you couldn't be allergic to anything. My offer for reviews was for the ones done by research scientists on G-protein coupled taste receptors found on tongues and nothing more.

regards,

trillium

I think mamster was saying he'd really like to read the reviews (as a biologist he almost qualifies as a scientist). I'd be interested too.

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