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MSG FAQs

MSG FAQs

General Questions

Safety Questions

 

GENERAL QUESTIONS

1. What is MSG?
MSG is the commonly used acronym for monosodium glutamate. MSG is a food ingredient used by home cooks and the food industry to make some foods taste better. In very simple scientific terms, MSG is a combination of the amino acid glutamate, sodium and water.

Amino acids are the "building blocks" of protein, and glutamate is one of the most abundant amino acids. It occurs naturally in lots of different foods. For example, protein-containing foods such as meat, fish, milk and vegetables contain glutamate, and our bodies also produce it. Even human breast milk contains glutamate naturally.


2. Why is MSG used?
MSG is a flavor enhancer that helps bring out the best natural flavors in foods. It works well with a wide variety of foods including meats, poultry, seafood, and many vegetables. Home cooks use MSG in soups, stews, sauces and casseroles, while the food industry frequently uses it in snack foods, frozen entrees and a wide variety of convenience foods.

3. How does MSG work?
When MSG is added to foods, the glutamate component enhances several specific flavor characteristics, including impact, body or fullness, mildness and complexity. It also harmonizes the wide range of flavors already present in foods, creating a well-rounded flavor.

The same thing occurs when you cook with foods that are naturally high in glutamate, such as mushrooms, tomatoes and Parmesan cheese. No wonder these foods have long been prized for their distinctive flavoring abilities!

4. Is MSG a new food ingredient?
No, MSG has nearly 100 years of safe use. A Japanese professor and researcher, Dr. Kikunae Ikeda first discovered the flavor-enhancing properties of glutamate in 1908. He then went on to develop monosodium glutamate so that consumers would have an easy way to use glutamate in cooking.

5. How is MSG made?
MSG is made using a fermentation process. Many common foods such as yogurt, beer, vinegar and soy sauce are produced by fermentation. American-made MSG uses Iowa corn as its starting material, but in other countries molasses, sugar beets or tapioca may be used.

6. Is there a difference between the glutamate in MSG and the glutamate in food?
No. The glutamate found in MSG is the same as the glutamate that naturally occurs in many foods, according to authorities such as the American Medical Association (AMA), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and most recently, the 1995 Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) report. In addition, our bodies metabolize, or break down, the two sources of glutamate in exactly the same way. In other words, to the human body, glutamate is glutamate no matter what the source.

7. What is umami?
Umami (pronounced "oo-mommy") is the Japanese word for the unique taste imparted by glutamate. While English (and other Western languages) lacks a specific word for the glutamate taste, it's often described as savory, meaty or broth-like.

Scientists have recently validated what our taste buds have known all along—that the glutamate taste is separate and distinct from the other four tastes (sweet, sour, salty and bitter.) After years of searching, researchers in Florida recently discovered the glutamate taste receptor.

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