What is MSG?

Quck answer

MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is a flavor enhancer commonly used in processed foods. It is a form of glutamic acid, an amino acid found naturally in many foods. MSG provides a savory, umami taste that enhances the flavor of food. Despite some misconceptions, MSG is generally recognized as safe by regulatory agencies and has been extensively studied. While some individuals may experience mild symptoms like headaches or sweating after consuming large amounts of MSG, these reactions are rare and not supported by scientific evidence. Overall, MSG is a widely used and safe ingredient that adds flavor to many foods.


Do you have a sweet tooth? Many individuals have a craving for cookies and cakes. Others enjoy salty food, such as French fries or meats. Historically, chefs worked with four tastes when cooking food. These tastes were sweet, salty, bitter, and sour. In the early 1900s, a Japanese scientist named Kikunae Ikeda discovered the fifth taste. He named it umami.

We bet you’ll never guess how Ikeda discovered umami! Here’s a clue: It’s from something slimy that resides in the ocean. No, not an eel! He found umami by researching seaweed. Ikeda enjoyed the taste of a popular Japanese soup and set out to determine what made it taste so delicious. He discovered that the taste came from the seaweed used in the soup. Later on, he marketed a synthetic version of the taste called Ajinomoto (in English, “essence of taste”). In the United States, it is referred to as monosodium glutamate, or MSG.

Does that sound familiar? You may have heard about MSG from your parents or teachers. It gained popularity in the United States during World War II. The military used it to enhance the taste of their food. When soldiers returned home, MSG came along with them. Soon, it was added to various foods found at grocery stores. MSG could be found in canned vegetables and soup, as well as frozen meals.

Today, many food packages proudly state “No added MSG.” What happened? Doesn’t MSG improve the taste of food? Many individuals believe it does, but they still avoid it nowadays. To comprehend why, we need to go back a few years.

In the 1960s, some people complained of feeling unwell after consuming Chinese food, which contained MSG. This prompted scientists to investigate MSG further. The research yielded mixed results. Some studies linked MSG to health issues like headaches, allergies, and obesity. Other studies demonstrated no correlation between MSG and health problems at all.

Presently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declares MSG as “generally recognized as safe.” It states that while some individuals report sensitivity to MSG, scientific research has shown no health risks. However, consuming excessive amounts of any food can be unhealthy, including MSG.

Which foods contain MSG? It occurs naturally in tomatoes, parmesan cheese, and many others. Other foods often have MSG added. Have you ever eaten fried chicken? How about chicken noodle soup? Those products typically contain added MSG–it’s part of what makes them so flavorful!

Still WONDERing whether you should consume MSG? That’s a decision for you and your family to make. Modern scientists agree that it is safe, but many individuals still avoid it.

When was the last time you took a bite of a chicken nugget or opened a bag of tortilla chips? You probably didn’t know it, but those products likely contained MSG!

Try It Out

Enlist the help of a friend or family member for these activities!

  • Although MSG may not be as harmful as many believe, it is still important to focus on nutrition. Take the time to learn about healthy eating and discuss with a family member how you can improve your diet. What foods should you and your family consume more or less of?
  • Interested in discovering the art of combining sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami flavors to create delicious dishes? Begin by reading these helpful cooking tips. Write a paragraph summarizing the key points to remember while cooking.
  • Ready to cook delightful meals for your family? Get a friend or family member to assist you in finding a new recipe online. Afterwards, discuss the nutritional value of the chosen recipe. Does it include grains, vegetables, protein, or even MSG?

Recommended Sources

  • https://www.fda.gov/food/ingredientspackaginglabeling/foodadditivesingredients/ucm328728.htm (accessed on March 7, 2019)
  • https://www.marioninstitute.org/what-is-msg-and-what-is-the-problem-with-it/ (accessed on March 7, 2019)
  • https://www.sciencefriday.com/articles/is-msg-bad-for-your-health/ (accessed on March 7, 2019)
  • https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/its-the-umami-stupid-why-the-truth-about-msg-is-so-easy-to-swallow-180947626/ (accessed on March 7, 2019)

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