Monosodium glutamate is an additive used to enhance the flavor of your food. This white substance is the sodium salt of L-glutamic acid, an amino acid that occurs naturally in food. Monosodium glutamate resembles salt or sugar and is tasteless when eaten solo. One of the benefits of adding monosodium glutamate to food is an extra burst of flavor. It also permits cooks to reduce the amount of table salt they use.
Monosodium glutamate brings out the flavor of savory dishes. According to the European Food Information Council, or EUFIC, it's also added to processed foods, frozen foods, canned soups and broths, salad dressing and spice mixes. Monosodium glutamate, or MSG, also goes by the names hydrolyzed soy protein and autolyzed yeast. Cooks worldwide still favor this food additive, according to a March 2008 article published in the "New York Times." It adds a "fifth flavor" to food called "umami." The taste monosodium glutamate imparts to food has been described using many positive adjectives: meaty, hearty, rounded, savory and "broth-like."
Monosodium glutamate can replace other sodium-heavy seasonings in food. MSG has one-third the amount of sodium that table salt does. Cooks who use this additive to flavor dishes can decrease the amount of table salt they use by up to 40 percent—and the dish will still taste good.
Monosodium glutamate has hundreds of studies to support its safety, according to the International Food Information Council Foundation, or IFICF. Some of the following governmental authorities and other organizations have deemed MSG safe to use as a food additive: the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; the National Academy of Sciences; the European Community's Scientific Committee for Food; and the American Medical Association. Monosodium glutamate is not an allergen. The IFICF points out that most Americans get more glutamates from the foods they eat than they do MSG, consuming roughly 11 g natural glutamates to 1 g glutamates from MSG, per day.
Monosodium glutamate continues to inspire controversy among who link the additive to serious neurological side effects and other undesirable adverse effects. "Chinese food syndrome" was first noted in 1968, when the MSG used in Chinese food in American restaurants was blamed for symptoms such as profuse sweating, headaches, flushing, chest pain, dizziness, numbness in the face and neck and weakness. MedlinePlus states that numerous clinical studies have yet to conclusively tie the consumption of monosodium glutamate to these symptoms. Your body responds to glutamates in the same way, regardless if you consume MSG or eat foods with glutamates, such as mushrooms, tomatoes and cheese, states the IFICF.
- "The New York Times"; "Yes, MSG, the Secret Behind the Savor"; J. Moskin, March 2008
- European Food Information Council: The Facts on Monosodium Glutamate; November 2002
- Center for Science in the Public Interest; Food Additives
- LEDA at Harvard Law School; MSG: The Controversy; M. Carvan; January 1997
- MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia; Chinese Restaurant Syndrome; October 2010
- MayoClinic.com; Monosodium Glutamate (MSG): Is it Harmful?; K. Zeratsky; January 2010