About MSG

What is commonly known about MSG is usually a mixture of facts versus opinions and perceptions.

WHAT IS MSG ?

MSG stands for monosodium glutamate and is the sodium salt of glutamic acid, one of the most abundant naturally-occurring non-essential amino acids.
Glutamate is an amino acid that can be found in all foods that contain protein. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. As foods and our bodies also contain protein, in turn, they also contain glutamate. Glutamate exists naturally in protein-rich foods such as cheese, milk, meat, fish, vegetables, etc. Glutamate is also produced by the human body, making about 50g a day. Glutamate is important for human metabolism and brain functions.

Formula: C5H8NNaO4
IUPAC ID: Sodium 2-Aminopentanedioate
Molar mass: 169.111 g/mol
Density: 1.62 g/cm³
Melting point: 232 °C
Soluble in: Water

MSG is a kind of seasoning where the main ingredient is glutamate which is extracted from Sugar cane, cassava or Metroxylon sagu. Commonly, we use MSG as a food enhancer but it is also used as a raw material when processing other compound seasoning such as stock cubes, sauces, stock powders, etc.


When MSG is added to foods, it provides a similar flavoring function as the glutamate that occurs naturally in food. MSG is comprised of nothing more than water, sodium and glutamate.

WHAT IS MSG FOR?

MSG in its pure form does not have any pleasant taste until it is combined with a compatible savory smell. As such, as a food additive and in the right amount, MSG can indeed enhance other taste active compounds, thus improving the overall taste of foods.

Nonetheless, like other basic taste (except sucrose), MSG improves the pleasantness only in the right doses, any excesses are unpleasant. For instance, in soup more than 1g of MSG per 100ml of soup will render it unpleasant.

MSG is probably well-known for its ability to bring out the best tastes in foods, emphasizing the natural flavours. Many researchers has akin the MSG to the “fifth taste” aside from the four basic tastes of sweet, sour, bitter and salty. In Japanese, this special taste is called “umami” or savory. MSG can enhance the taste of many foods through the interaction between glutamate and other flavours like poultry, vegetables, seafood and meats. It is also used extensively to enhance the flavour of soups, stews, sauces, snacks, etc. MSG actually harmonizes well with salty and sour tastes but does little for sweet foods such as cakes, breads, pastries or candies.

MSG cannot improve the flavour of bad-tasting food or improve bad cooking. A cook cannot use MSG as a substitute for low-quality ingredients or to tenderize meat. MSG is your food accompaniment – life's little pleasures that make good food tastes even better.

There is also an interaction between MSG and salt and other umami substances. With these properties, MSG can then be used to reduce salt intake (Sodium) which is inclined to hypertension, heart diseases and stroke. The taste of low-salt foods can be improved with the usage of MSG even with a 30% salt reduction as the sodium content of MSG is approximately three times lower than in salt.

The nutritional benefits’ of MSG

MSG is a good condiment, soluble in water, add a little MSG in the soup, vegetables and will make it tastier. Sometimes, MSG is able restore the loss of the scent of food during the modulation process. Therefore, MSG is capable in enhancing one’s appetite; it will also help to improve the food digestion.

In addition, the main component of MSG - monosodium glutamate breaks down into glutamic acid under the reaction of stomach acid. The glutamic acid combined with the ammonia generated from the catabolism of protein, produce glutamine. When there is insufficient supply of glucose, glutamine enhances the brain energy through the blood-brain barrier, improve and maintain brain function; glutamic acid has certain effect in preventing concussion or brain injury. Long-term administration of glutamic acid appropriately, may improve the intelligence in children with neurological defects. The ammonia level in blood will increase due to the dysfunction of liver, causing severe nitrogen metabolism disorder, resulting in hepatic coma, the glutamine is able to reduce the ammonia content in blood, which plays a solution to this "ammonia poisoning" effect.

Revolution of Umami

During the ripening process of vegetable, the glutamic acid increases and it becomes more palatable. In comparison with a not ripen and a ripe tomato, a ripe tomato is 10 times more palatable.

In the cooking process, food is totally break down and releases amino acid and thus increases its flavour. Matured cheese is the best example, the glutamic acid increase by more than 4 times in the eight months matured Cheddar cheese.

The food preservation process breaks down the food protein and releases glutamic acid and thus enhances the flavour. The flavor of Spain Iberico ham increase by near to four times one year after the drying process.

The taste of MSG is a little salty and a little bitter, sometime even with a little soap taste. MSG itself is tasteless but once added to food is able to enhance the flavour of food.

Bamboo shoot, kelp and vintage ham have very high proportion of Umami. 100 years ago, After Dr. Ikeda Kikunaer discovered kelp contains glutamate and is able to enhance the flavour of food, he processes the ingredient and made it into a commodity, it is also what we known as Monosodium glutamate.

Glutamic acid forms the basic ingredient of protein, it does not have to bind with any molecule and it exists in free state. Glutamic acid being a constituent of protein exists in bound form and is tasteless. Glutamic acid can only be tasted when it is present in an unbound form.

Professor Ikeda termed this flavour umami. Currently there are 20 over amino acid with different flavour, but from glutamic acid, is umami.

Dr. Ikeda did not generate international attention when he proposed umami theory, umami was recognized internationally 70 years after the its discovery. In year 2001, University of California biologist Charles Zuker confirmed that our entire tongue is able to taste umami especially the end part of the tongue being more sensitive, umami was officially recognized as the fifth taste.

Dr. Ikeda Kikunae discovered umami after isolated glutamic acid from kelp. He continue the research and came to a major breakthrough one year later. The MSG is made from pure glutamic acid extracted from barley gluten proteins, wrapped with salt ions and made into white powder.

The chemical name for MSG is Monosodium Glutamate. Dr. Ikeda immediately cooperation with Suzuki Saburosuke to officially produce monosodium glutamate which forever changed the world of cooking and eating habits.

For Asian (Japan, China, Thailand and South Korea), who is particular about the flavour of food, MSG soon became as popular as salt as it is thought to be able to enhance the food flavor.

MSG was introduced in the United States as a "flavor awakener" and immediately had a firm footing in the United States. In the 1960s, MSG began to be used in baby food and there has been no issue raised regarding the use of MSG in baby food.

IS MSG SAFE?

MSG has been used to season food for more than a century.

The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) has in 1995 compiled a report on behalf of the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concluded that MSG is safe when "eaten at customary levels". This report also indicated that there was no data to support the role of glutamate in chronic and debilitating illnesses.

The human body treats glutamate that is added to foods (MSG) the same as it would treat natural glutamate. The body does not distinguish between the free glutamates from tomatoes or cheese to those from MSG that are added to foods. Whether naturally present or from MSG, glutamate is still glutamate.

Many common people are led to believe that MSG is made from chemicals. Foods, come to think about it, are also made of thousands of chemicals but that does not mean that they are produced in a laboratory through chemical synthesis. They just occur naturally. Like beer, soy sauce or vinegar that are produced through fermentation, the making of MSG also begins with natural products such as molasses from sugar canes or sugar beets and food starch from tapioca of cereals. These are fermented in a controlled environment with a micro-organism.

Crude glutamic acid that is produced is filtered, purified and converted by neutralization into monosodium glutamate. After additional purification, crystallization, drying and sieving, the MSG takes on the form of pure white crystals and are ready for packing and use.

In Australia and New Zealand, no food additive and that includes monosodium glutamate is approved for use in food until its safety has been established by the Food Standards Australia New Zealand.

MSG and other glutamates are among a group of food additives that are generally permitted in foods, due to their recognized safety in their use. (Ref.: Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code, Standard 1.3.1)

Monosodium glutamate has been on the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) "Generally Recognized as Safe" (GRAS) list for 40 years. It sits alongside other substances such as pepper, sugar, vinegar and baking powder. Related acceptance of the safety of glutamate is correspondingly reflected in food law rights around the world.

We all consume glutamate in our daily diet, either as a naturally occurring part of the foods that are eaten or as a food ingredient. Typically, the amount of MSG that is ingested as a food additive in a meal is equivalent to only about 1⁄1000 of the total glutamate already present in our bodily tissues.

In comparison to our consumption of MSG, we consume daily about 20–40 times more naturally occurring glutamate in the food, particularly the protein that we eat.

DO YOU KNOW THAT...

MSG is not an allergen. Some of the studies done on this subject includes a position paper issuedby the American College of Allergy and Immunology which stated that severe reactions have nothing to do with this ingredient. As does a clinical research in the Department of Clinical Immunology and Allergy at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney.

It may be possible that some people might be MSG-sensitive the same way may others are sensitive to certain ingredients in food. Mild, temporary reactions to MSG could occur in a small percentage of the population as shown by tests with a large dose of MSG in the absence of food.

MSG may be one of the most researched substances in the history of food. The United States and other countries have performed thousands of tests on the usage of MSG in food. Some of them are:
  • US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) designates MSG as safe (generally recognized as safe/GRAS), with common ingredients such as salt and baking powder (1958).
  • The National Academy of Sciences confirms the safety of MSG as a food ingredient (1979).
  • The Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives of the United Nations World Health and Food and Agricultural Organizations designates MSG as safe and places it in its safest category for food additives (1988).
  • The European Community's Scientific Committee for Food confirms MSG safety (1991).
  • The American Medical Association concludes that MSG is safe, at normal consumption levels in the diet (1992).
  • The FDA reaffirms MSG safety based upon a report from the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (1995).
When using MSG, try to adhere to the suggested uses on the packaging or labels. MSG is generally added to food before or during cooking. As with all things in life, practicing moderation is almost surely the key. Proper amount, and not large doses, should be practiced because adding more does little to the flavour of foods.