Do You Consume Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)?


People nowadays pay attention to health, and they feel more at ease when they see MSG-free labels on food packaging. Some restaurants put up “MSG-free soup” menu on walls to attract business. Why are people afraid of consuming food with MSG?


What is MSG?

First of all, we should gain an understanding of MSG whose chemical name is monosodium glutamate. The glucose, extracted from ingredients such as sugar cane, sugar beet, cassava, corn, rice or starch, turns into a solution containing MSG after the fermentation of the glutamic acid. The solution is then decolourised, filtered, and evaporated to obtain dry white crystals, which are MSG.


The origin of MSG

In the early twentieth century, a Japanese biochemist was curious about the meaty taste in vegetable and tofu soup. He then discovered that the taste came from kelp broth and began to study its chemical components. A type of crystallised compound, MSG, was isolated from the kelp broth. He believed that the taste was distinct from the basic tastes of sweet, sour, bitter and salty flavours, and he named this special taste as umami in Japanese.


In fact, natural ingredients also contain MSG, such as kelp, seaweed, dried shrimps and mushrooms. When these ingredients are added to cooking, there will be a natural umami flavour, but the amount is not high. Therefore, the perfect presentation of the flavour requires a good mix of ingredients and a certain level of culinary skills. The production of MSG was prompted by the convenience to have a source of umami readily available to people.


Is MSG harmful to health?

MSG has been said to cause thirst after consumption. The main reason is that MSG is also a sodium salt, but it is not like common salt that has a salty flavour. If too much MSG is added to a dish, the person who eats it might not taste much of the salty flavour, but the sodium ion level in the blood still increases. Therefore, the natural reaction is thirst for water.


MSG (E621) is a legal food additive, and people should just pay attention to the amount used (The recommended daily intake of sodium for adults is 2000mg, and 5g of MSG contain 600mg of sodium). Hence, it is not about whether you eat MSG or not, but how much sodium you consume. Both salt and MSG contain sodium, and excessive intake may lead to other diseases. To stay healthy, the public should start building a habit of not eating food with too intense or salty flavours!