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Monosodium Glutamate/MSG: The Topic


Fat Guy
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While I agree MSG certainly occurs in nature, there is a difference between substances in their natural state and those that are distilled and concentrated. Even different types of salt taste and look differently depending on how it's created even if it is basically the same stuff chemically.

Couldn't... resist... urge... to... respond...

Different types of salt will taste different to your palate, but when it is dissolved in water it will all taste the same. As a general rule, it doesn't make monetary sense to cook with very expensive salts. Their unique tastes and textures are best left as a final garnish on the dish.

Contrast this to MSG, which I believe would be added to food much as salt would in the preparation and cooking stages, not as a final garnish. I think the real issue is the addition of concentrated product in exceedingly large quantities.

Now where's that MSG topic?

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smgarsh:

i know.  but people are only allergic to MSG when the cook is Asian.

Walk into a Japanese grocery store like JASMart and notice the rather large bags of MSG they sell (often from Ajinomoto, who invented the modern manufacturing process). Please repeat with Chinese and Korean grocery stores, you'll also see rather large bags of MSG. Please repeat with your standard US grocery store, say Food Emporium for those of us in NYC. See any big bags of pure MSG for sale? I don't think so. Only a little bottle of Accent. Asian cuisine as made at home or in a restaurant often has pure MSG added by the cook, that's not something regulary done in any "western" cuisine that I know of, in "western" cusine if pure MSG is added, it's done in a factory setting.

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smgarsh:

i know.  but people are only allergic to MSG when the cook is Asian.

Walk into a Japanese grocery store like JASMart and notice the rather large bags of MSG they sell (often from Ajinomoto, who invented the modern manufacturing process). Please repeat with Chinese and Korean grocery stores, you'll also see rather large bags of MSG. Please repeat with your standard US grocery store, say Food Emporium for those of us in NYC. See any big bags of pure MSG for sale? I don't think so. Only a little bottle of Accent. Asian cuisine as made at home or in a restaurant often has pure MSG added by the cook, that's not something regulary done in any "western" cuisine that I know of, in "western" cusine if pure MSG is added, it's done in a factory setting.

check out any number of seasoning salts, dry rubs, and/or diping sauces offered by any number of manufacturers and in restaurants and you'll be suprised by the amount of MSG used, especially in chain joints offering bbq.. additionally, taco bell used to use it pretty extensively, although their website indicates that it isn't present in any of their current menu items..

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smgarsh:

i know.  but people are only allergic to MSG when the cook is Asian.

Do we need any further stereotype?

Nathan may have a point. No one seems to be making a negative ruckus about Wylie Dufresne who makes a whole science out of adding powdered food industry additives to his dishes for unique textures. Some of the stuff he was adding in his Iron Chef episode (like carrageenan, although I guess like MSG it is derived from seaweed) looked quite synthetic/artificial. And I think he has every right to; he knows what he's doing with it, and it's still safe.

Edited by jeanki (log)
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I think it might be useful to provide some information about what glutamic acid is, what glutamate is, what "glutamates" are. This seems insufficiently understood.

Glutamic acid is an amino acid having the chemical formula C5H9NO4. This is a common and important amino acid, playing roles in the human organism in both cellular metabolism and as a neurotransmitter.

Glutamate is the commonly occurring anion (negatively charged ion) of glutamic acid.

"Glutamates" are salts or esters of glutamic acid.

Monosodium glutamate is a sodium salt of glutamate (meaning that it is glutamate plus a sodium atom).

When monosodium glutamate is dissolved in water, it dissociates into free sodium and glutamate ions, much the same way that table salt dissociates into free sodium and chlorine ions. There is, then, no difference between the glutamate ions that come into your body from monosodium glutamate and the glutamate ions that come into your body from other sources of free glutamate.

--

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smgarsh:

i know.  but people are only allergic to MSG when the cook is Asian.

Walk into a Japanese grocery store like JASMart and notice the rather large bags of MSG they sell (often from Ajinomoto, who invented the modern manufacturing process). Please repeat with Chinese and Korean grocery stores, you'll also see rather large bags of MSG. Please repeat with your standard US grocery store, say Food Emporium for those of us in NYC. See any big bags of pure MSG for sale? I don't think so. Only a little bottle of Accent. Asian cuisine as made at home or in a restaurant often has pure MSG added by the cook, that's not something regulary done in any "western" cuisine that I know of, in "western" cusine if pure MSG is added, it's done in a factory setting.

Why does it matter when MSG is added? MSG added in a factory setting has less of an effect to create those phantom headaches?

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I think with MSG, it's a kind of "what you don't know CAN hurt you" sort of thing. It seems that most of the people who are shocked by the fact that I use MSG, and who claim that it gives headaches and all other sorts of nasty ailments are the ones who know the least about it. One person thought it was a kind of animal fat, another had no idea that it occurred naturally.

I wouldn't be surprised if people with such great fears of things they know nothing about could worry themselves into getting a headache. As for me, I use it fairly often and have never had a problem, but I'll admit before I really knew anything about it, I thought I had some side effects of MSG syndrome or what have you. Maybe there need to be some public service announcements about the wonders and safety of MSG?? :biggrin:

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According to my GP, glutamates is an amino acid that encompasses a whole range of compounds. And there aer various form of glutamates that are far more complex than mono-sodium glutamates. Mono-sodium Glutenmates is just one of them..it is a single sodium molecule attached to the glutamate molecue. (like simple carb and complex carb. while they are both carbs one is apparently better for you)

Yes, glutamates is naturally produced in some fruits and vegetables but they tend to be more complex glutamates then monosodium glutamates. (for your info both tomatoes and mushroom also contain naturally produced cynide but does that make you want to sprinkle cynide powder in your food? Does it? Just because it's natural?)

3 grams of MSG is a fraction of the size of 3 grams of salt because MSG is a heavier compound.  I know most chinese cooks just sprinkle indiscriminately, like the way they use salt.

There are countless studies on people being sensitive to mono-sodium glutamates but who are okay with other glutamate compound.  That sensitivity level varies from person to person. 

I get migraines. The kind that makes you want to shut out all the lights and crawl into bed. I went through some extensive testing isolating one food item at a time. There was at one point when i stopped eating all nightshades.  Yes, I do get them when I indulge in the occasional thai eating, but I know well enough to have pills on hand to battle the ensuing  pain.

Word...I am with you Bondgirl. I too suffer from migraines caused by MSG...testing at hospitals has confirmed that it IS infact from MSG. And my PRESCRIPTION helps when I consume MSG by mistake. Its the worst...and those who do not have this sensitivity really do not know what we are talking about now do they!?!?!?

"One Hundred Years From Now It Will Not Matter What My Bank Account Was, What Kind of House I lived in, or What Kind of Car I Drove, But the World May Be A Better Place Because I Was Important in the Life of A Child."

LIFES PHILOSOPHY: Love, Live, Laugh

hmmm - as it appears if you are eating good food with the ones you love you will be living life to its fullest, surely laughing and smiling throughout!!!

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LindsayAnn, I don't think anyone is suggesting that no one can ever get a headache from MSG... or rather that no one can ever get a headache from exposure to a certain amount of free glutamate, since as I mentioned above there is no chemical difference between the glutamate you get from MSG and the glutamate you get from, say, parmigiano-reggiano.

If you get migraine headache from eating Doritos and aged parmigiano-reggiano and real dashi and concentrated tomato paste and soy sauce and dried mushrooms and canned soup, etc. -- then, yea, it sounds like you have a real migraine trigger from glutamate. It's certainly true that some people do have this sensitivity, juas as some people trigger migraines from chili peppers or alcohol or caffeine or bad rap music.

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For those that want some rather dense reading, there are a ton of scientific papers on MSG here.

Granted they are from www.msg.org.au, but I am assuming the are not biased.

One interesting one from the bunch is this one which discribes the issues with a lot of the testing done with MSG in that most of the tests don't match up the doses of MSG with the persons body weight.

John Deragon

foodblog 1 / 2

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I feel sorry for people that don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day -- Dean Martin

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If there is no chemical difference between msg present in unprocessed foods and pure msg does this mean that all naturally occuring glutamates break down into an anion of glutimate and cation x?

Is it not possible glutamates taste different to different people?

One thing I don't understand is that if there is no chemical difference between using pure msg and natural occuring glutamates and that if there are such already naturally occuring high concentrations of msg (particularly in asian food, where apparently its use in common) why does adding more make any difference. Is whatever flavor msg is supposed to provide somehow different from other flavors in that adding a small (many people have said that msg added is small as compared to msg naturally present) amount can make such a noticeable difference?

Can anyone provide a more detailed description of how monsodium glutamate is produced? Are the topics of isolation or extraction, storage, and processing methods relevant considering the properties of msg?

My i just noticed thats a lot of questions..

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I really don't understand why the people who DON'T have a reaction to MSG are questioning it. I don't question your allergies to ragweed or peanuts, or wonder if you're just making a big deal out of it with epipens like you don't want to die or something {LOL}.

Anyway, I had barely told my then-boyfriend about my MSG problem, other than to ask up front at an oriental restaurant whether they added MSG or not. He took me to a place nearby his parent's house, and when I asked, they said they couldn't guarantee that anything they had didn't have it! We ate anyway. As we were leaving and holding hands, my now-husband said he could feel my fingers expanding as he held them. That was at the same time the weird headache began at the back of my head.

He gets it. I don't understand all of the chemical explanations, but do also avoid copious amounts of soyu now.

Cheers,

Carolyn

"If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world."

J.R.R. Tolkien

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As with others, I have a problem with serious headaches.

I've been on a yeast-free diet for the past 2 weeks and have noticed a huge difference. Part of this includes avoiding MSG. This is usually not a problem, as I eat very little "processed" food, usually fresh ingredients, cooked at home.

I admit that, though I vaguely knew about glutamates ocurring naturally, this was filed elsewhere in my mind, nowhere near conscious knowledge.

Last night, exhausted after a bad day at work and looking for comfort food, I picked up some aubergine parmigiana from my favourite food store.

Splitting headache this morning for the first time in two weeks.

It's got to be the glutamates in the parmesan and tomatoes. I know cheese isn't a trigger for me under normal circs - well, cheddar, gruyere and emmenthal, in any case. Was the first time I had had parmesan though.

Am horribly upset at the thought that parmesan and tomatoes are problematic for me.

So yes, here's someone who DOES, in fact, seem to have a reaction to free glutamates in (admittedly non-heirloom) tomatoes.

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If there is no chemical difference between msg present in unprocessed foods and pure msg does this mean that all naturally occuring glutamates break down into an anion of glutimate and cation x?

Glutamate is the anion of glutamic acid. That's what it is. An anion.

Is it not possible glutamates taste different to different people?

Absolutely. Just as it is possible that salt tastes different to different people, or that cut grass smells different to different people or that the color blue looks different to different people. We can never know how each individual person perceives a given sense, only that they tend to agree that blue looks like blue and salt tastes like salt.

One thing I don't understand is that if there is no chemical difference between using pure msg and natural occuring glutamates and that if there are such already naturally occuring high concentrations of msg (particularly in asian food, where apparently its use in common) why does adding more make any difference.

Most likely because certain foods are high in free glutamate and others are not. Chicken breast stir fried with broccoli and garlic, for example, doesn't seem like it would be very high in free glutamate.

There is also the fact that, while certain foods may be high in free glutamate, sometimes you want more umami. Similarly, sometimes an ingredient is naturally high in salt, but you still may want to add more to the dish. Industrially, of course, it allows companies to make chicken soup with fewer chickens.

What I think many of us are saying in this thread is that it doesn't make sense for someone to say "I'm allergic to salt that comes from a salt shaker" when they don't seem to have any problem eating anchovies. A lot of it, frankly, is simply a lack of knowledge. It's like people who believe that sea salt is "better for them" than mined salt, when in fact all salt is sea salt (how do you suppose the salt deposits got there?).

Can anyone provide a more detailed description of how monsodium glutamate is produced? Are the topics of isolation or extraction, storage, and processing methods relevant considering the properties of msg?

MSG can be made many different ways. It was originally discovered as the white crystals covering kombu seaweed. It can also be made by hydrolyzing grain or soy protein using either enzymes or hydrochloric acid. Today it is typically made by fermenting things like sugar cane, corn, sugar beets, etc. with bacteria that excrete glutamic acid. Either way, the glutamate is filtered out, concentrated and crystallized. It's certainly possible that contaminants can find their way into the process, depending on who is making the stuff. This is, of course, equally true of any number of food and ingredient production methods (decaf coffee, for example).

I really don't understand why the people who DON'T have a reaction to MSG are questioning it.  I don't question your allergies to ragweed or peanuts, or wonder if you're just making a big deal out of it with epipens like you don't want to die or something

I think the issue is that a lot of people decide that they're allergic to MSG because they get a reaction in Chinese restaurants sometimes, without really doing any of the work to determine whether it really is MSG. I can't tell you the number of times someone has told me about their horrible sensitivity to MSG while munching on a bag of Doritos or grating a big pile of parmigiano-reggiano on their pasta. This has some similarity to people who will tell you that they're "lactose intolerant" and therefore can't eat that nice piece of Stilton (which doesn't contain any lactose). Usually, people who have peanut allergies aren't telling you about them while eating food that's been fried in peanut oil. But, then again, peanuts aren't exactly something that play an important role in human metabolism and occur naturally in thousands of foods.

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Thanks for your response Sam, all your answers were very helpful.

I had considered the thought that some foods are naturally high in glutamates while others or not, but I'm curious as to how many cooks actually take this into consideration. I'd be interested to see some actual numerical values of glutamates present certain foods and the amount of glutamate in say, a teaspoon of crystallized msg. Even if neither chicken breast or broccoli have high levels of glutamates, it wouldn't be at all out of place to add stock, oyster sauce, soy sauce, or any number of other things that are supposedly high in glutamates to that stirfry. I guess for myself I'd have to see some actual data to make a judgement. There are so many preserved/fermented etc flavorings in asian cooking in general that it seems strange that msg use is fairly prevalent in asian cooking. I tried looking through google results for some information on naturally present levels of glutamates but didn't find many results other than this website.

I'd be interested to hear from any who does use msg in their cooking as to how they use it, i.e. what triggers a thought like "this needs some msg".

The fact that msg is simply extracted for natural sources counts towards it in my book, but I'm still a little leary of it. I'm beginning to think that it all depends on how you use it, as there is a lot of difference between aiming for a subtle enhancement versus a substitute for something that should already be there (see Kinsey's mention of "less chicken" in an above post). Given that we use "essences" or highly concentrated forms of many other things found in plant and animal products, I have to wonder what is the major difference between these and msg that people object to. The use of gelatin doesn't seem all that different to me and I have yet to hear anyone demonize El Bulli.

I do wonder about the importance of processing and storage techniques. I don't know the details, but the one method of synthesis from ammonia sounded a bit worrying to me. Salts are generally pretty sturdy molecules, but I think most people would agree that there is difference between vanilla extract synthesized from wood pulp and a vanilla bean.

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  • 2 weeks later...
...testing at hospitals has confirmed that it IS infact from MSG.

there is no such test. period. I'm sorry to put it this bluntly...but there is no test that can confirm that a headache is due to a specific ingested substance. in theory, one could demonstrate (over a long period through isolation of foodstuffs) that only foodstuffs containing glutamates could correlate with a specific individual having headaches...but in reality this is simply too hard to do.

peanuts are a proven allergen (with real consequences...I had a friend in college who died). glutamates are not even classified as one.

I know it really it ticks people off to say this...but it is amazing how many medical issues appear to be psychosomatic or pyschogenic.

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Ok, shoot me now for not reading the previous million pages.

I remember reading many years ago that it would damage the brain. I kept using it anyway.

So does alchohol. Give up a good Merlot?

When pigs fly.

What is MSG, how is it produced?

It makes food taste better. Noticeably. Period. I use it.

I make one hell of a spaghetti sauce. A smidgen of MSG makes it better.

And it does wonders for southern green beens cooked with a tad of bacon drippings. Potato salad? Yes.

If it does cause brain damage, then I can now report a reasonable explanation to my family and friends.

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As someone who has been getting migraines for 26 years, I can say that I am pretty good at determining what causes my headaches. I have had an MSG-induced migraine 3 times in the past three years. All three times I was able to trace back to the MSG. The first was a noodle soup at an Asian-style restaurant. The 2nd was a battered, fried chicken sandwich at Ruby Tuesday's and the third was from a packaged, frozen stir-fry dish from Trader Joe's. These have been the absolute worst migraines I have ever experienced.

I didn't know about this connection when I was younger because

1) I was not breast fed

2) My mother did cooking from scratch. There were 9 people total in my family and we couldn'at afford pre-packaged products. She only used salt, pepper and a very few dried herbs to season foods.

3) I really do not like mushrooms and seaweed. Therefore I have never been expose to higher amounts of MSG. I also did not eat raw tomatoes or tomatoes in large quantities until the past 6 months.

4) I do not care for aged meats such as sausages and such so again, very low exposure. Nor did I eat a lot of deli-style meats.

5) I also cannot drink wine as I will get the same type of headache.

6) I can tolerate small amounts of ADDED MSG, but it has to be very low on the ingredient list.

7) As my dad couldn't stomach cheese of any kind, the only parmesan I was exposed to was the green can. So I never ate much of it. Needless to say, we didn't eat hardly any cheese.

Now, I don't get an immediate reaction. About 12 hours after ingesting too much MSG, I will get a migraine that absolutely THROBS on the right side of my head and will be nauseated for 3 days. Three! No matter what drugs I take, what my hydration levels are or anything else, it will last three days-the nausea, the pain, the light-smell-and sound sensivity , the inability to sleep from the throbbing, every movement causing fresh pain.

So for anyone who loves MSG, more power to you, enjoy it , eat it in good health. But I am damn sick and tired of people who have never experienced any reaction to it telling me that it doesn't exist. Because I damn well know better.

If you do happen to experience it one day, I will give you sympathy, pain killers and any tricks I have learned to deal with the pain BUT I will also give you a hearty TOLD YA!

As an aside, this just occurred to me-migraineurs are supposed to avoid fermented foods. If MSG is obtained by fermenting, then that could be what triggers the migraines.

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I will give you sympathy, pain killers and any tricks I have learned to deal with the pain BUT I will also give you a hearty TOLD YA!

damn general tso.

yeah you were right.

now send me your percocet.

thanks.

Nonsense, I have not yet begun to defile myself.

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Normally it's not a problem for me but I react to it if there's a lot; usually just feel headachy the next day. I realizd that I would wake up with headaches the day after I ate at two particular kinda cheap chinese restaurants that used a lot of it. One evening I ate there and it tasted like the chef had had a spasm in his MSH hand - I mean the whole dish really tasted like not much else. I don't even know why I ate it. But as I was walking home from the restaurant, I suddenly felt cold and sweaty, and realized my heart was racing - we are talking about 6 beats a second, it would speed up and slow down....I stopped and just calmed myself down and it passed. Asked a doctor friend and he said he couldn't say for sure obviously as it was the next day (I felt like crap), but that the hyper-dose of MSG was a good bet.

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