What is MSG?

What is MSG (Ajinomoto)?
MSG is the abbreviation of Monosodium Glutamate, also known as Ajinomoto. It was invented in Japan based on the flavor-enhancing benefits of seaweed.  MSG is used to flavor processed meat and fish, instant noodles, potato chips, sausages, soy sauce, dehydrated soups and other such foods. It is also considered to be an integral part of most Chinese cooking.

MSG was traditionally prepared from wheat gluten, but due to high demand, it is now created through bacterial fermentation. MSG is widely regarded as a flavor enhancer, which cannot be matched by any other alternatives.

Does it have any health effects?
There is a long standing debate on the health effects of MSG. If taken in moderate amounts, MSG does not seem to have any negative effects. In fact, along with the enhancement to flavor, MSG supplies sodium to the body, which is needed in trace amounts.

There are, however, a list of minor and serious side effects, which have been attributed to the intake of Ajinomoto. Common reactions to MSG include flushing, weakness, burning sensation, heart palpitation, numbness and headache.

According to the Mayo Clinic, researchers have found no definitive evidence of a link between MSG and these symptoms.

The FDA labels MSG as “Generally Recognized as Safe”, however there are some experts that caution against any intake of the substance.

It has been observed that people, especially children who regularly consume food loaded with MSG have higher chances of developing neurological disorders, seizures, brain cell damage and even brain tumors.

Should you avoid it?
There are chefs who routinely use MSG, especially in Chinese cooking. According to them it helps bring out the natural flavor of salt in the rest of the ingredients. In effect, it helps enliven and revive the taste of vegetables and meats, which are generally bland.

Much like processed sugar, Ajinomoto should be used as little as possible, just to be on the safer side of things. Also, by using the finest and freshest of ingredients in your recipes, you do not need to rely on MSG’s taste-enhancing capabilities to make your food enjoyable.