Monosodium glutamate, also called MSG, is the amino acid glutamic acid converted into a sodium salt. It is used as a food additive usually found in processed meats, Chinese cuisine, canned vegetables and soups. MSG enhances the natural flavors of foods. It is generally well tolerated, but can cause an allergic type reaction in some people. If you are sensitive to MSG, various spices and flavorings can be used as alternatives to MSG.
MSG is used to enhance the savory flavors in foods. Various herbs such as garlic, savory, tarragon, rosemary and pepper add a spicy, savory flavor to foods. Other spices such as turmeric and cumin are good alternatives to MSG and add warmth to any dish. Depending on the dish and the season, a variety of herb combinations can stimulate the taste buds and enhance the flavor of foods. If you purchase a pre-mixed herb combination, be sure to check the label for added MSG or hydrolyzed vegetable protein. Hydrolyzed protein is a naturally occurring free glutamate, according to Health Canada.
Sea salt is an alternative to using MSG. Salt enhances the flavors of foods and is claimed to have a softer flavor than regular table salt. Other salts can impart a smoky or exotic flavor such as sulfuric Indian black salt and Korean bamboo salt. Kosher salt enhances the flavor of foods and is a popular cooking salt.
A variety of salt alternatives can be used instead of MSG in foods. Salt substitutes are a good choice for people with heart conditions or are on a salt-restricted diet. Potassium chloride, or KCI, is used in cheese, breads and meats to enhance the natural flavors. KCI can have a bitter flavor and is loaded with potassium. Certain medications or medical conditions may have harmful side effects if combined with potassium. Before using KCI consult with your doctor or health care provider if you have any health issues or are taking medication. Calcium chloride, magnesium chloride and magnesium sulfate all have a slightly salty-bitter taste, which makes them only useful in a small number of foods. Calcium chloride can cause tongue irritations and all have slightly “off” tastes at high levels, notes the National Institutes of Health.
Dairy concentrates can be used as a MSG alternative for a large variety of foods. Dairy concentrates can improve fatty mouth feel, help release flavors in foods and mask some off notes in certain foods. Dairy concentrates are made by enzyme modification of butter, cream and cheese, producing shelf-stable powders that are easy to use.
- MayoClinic.com; Monosodium Glutamate (MSG): Is It Harmful?; K. Zeratsky, R.D., L.D.; January 2010
- Cornell College; The Monosodium Glutamate Story; Addison Ault; March 2004
- Health Canada: Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) - Questions and Answers
- National Library of Medicine; Appendix D Salt Substitutes and Enhancers; 2007
- FDA; Food Ingredients & Packaging; April 2010
- Cook's Thesaurus: Salt