Ketchup is probably my favorite condiment. I use it in cooking (e.g., meatloaf, my famous baked beans, let’s not forget sloppy Joe’s), on sandwiches (a must-have on grilled hot dogs and hamburgers) and in a variety of other ways (I should confess I can’t eat French fries without lots of ketchup, but you probably could’ve guessed that at this point!). When my love of ketchup first began, little did I know that it was likely in part because of my love of tomatoes, which provides an undeniable umami taste.
OK. I digress. Let’s get back on track and to the focus of this blog: using monosodium glutamate (MSG) in home cooking. Without ever having realized it, I now recognize that my devotion to ketchup is relevant to this blog because it imparts the same umami taste as does MSG.
As one of the MSGdish blogs (“The Culinary Connection between MSG and Umami”) previously explained: “If you love tomatoes, one of the reasons you love tomatoes is that they contain much more glutamate than many other vegetables. And if you love aged Parmesan cheese or aged steak, one reason you love those foods is that the aging process breaks the proteins down into amino acids, MSG included. Parmesan cheese and aged beef have some of the highest levels of glutamate of any food we eat, and that’s part of what makes them so delicious.”
MSG is Umami Seasoning
The flavor of MSG is so distinctive and so important that it has its own name, one that’s become one of the most talked-about words among the culinary elite in the last few decades. That name is “umami.” It’s a Japanese term without a clear, simple definition, mostly due to the translation across cultures. It’s often equated with “deliciousness” or “savoriness.”
Without using fancy culinary terms, let’s slice right to the core of why MSG makes so many foods taste so darned good!… umami! (Ding! Ding! Ding!) Umami is now said to have become a 21st-century culinary juggernaut. Who knew? MSG imparts the umami flavor (or boosts the savory flavor) of an array of foods by contributing this important taste. (Umami, which was identified over a century ago, is the fifth taste that goes along with the other recognized human tastes – salty, sour, sweet and bitter).
In addition to the savory flavor enhancement properties that MSG brings to foods, the sodium content of a recipe can be reduced by using MSG in place of a proportion of salt. Similarly, total sodium content can be reduced by almost half without diminishing the taste. Why? MSG contains one-third of the amount of sodium as table salt.
Now keep in mind one essential fact that I alluded to above: the umami flavor imparted by MSG is considered “savory,” therefore it harmonizes best with other ingredients in salty and sour types of dishes. Likewise, MSG contributes little or nothing to sweet or bitter foods. When I talk about savory, think red meat, poultry, seafood, vegetables, soups, casseroles, egg dishes, gravies, and sauces.
Results of taste panel studies indicate that a level of 0.1 to 0.8 percent monosodium glutamate by weight in food provides optimum enhancement of the food’s natural flavor (see conversion tips below). This is within the range of glutamate that naturally occurs in foods.
For some specific recipes and ideas for cooking with MSG, check out our Savory Cuisine Corner where we have numerous recipes that use MSG as an ingredient. You may also want to visit this website that offers some great advice on using MSG in cooking.
In closing, I’d like to challenge you to put MSG on your shopping list and give it a try the next time you prepare a soup, meat or vegetable casserole or any savory recipe – but don’t forget to cut back on the table salt! MSG can be found in the condiments or spice/seasonings section at the grocery store (Ac’cent® and Ajinomoto® are common name brands).
A Few Reminders about Using MSG in Cooking
- Approximately one-half teaspoon of MSG is an effective amount to enhance the flavor of a pound of meat or four-to-six servings of vegetables, casseroles or soup.
- As with all flavorings and spices, taste levels may vary from individual to individual.
- MSG will not enhance or complement the flavor of sweet foods such as cakes, pastries, custards or puddings.
- MSG is not a meat tenderizer. Instead, it functions as an umami taste enhancer giving an extra flavor boost to the meat being tenderized.
- MSG cannot cover up bad-tasting food or allow a cook to substitute low-quality ingredients for higher quality ingredients. It only enhances the savory flavors that are already present; it doesn’t add new ones or mask “off” flavors.
- Don’t overdo it. Overuse of MSG, just like with other seasonings, may result in an undesirable taste (e.g., too much salt, chili powder, garlic, curry). Once the proper amount of MSG is used, adding more contributes little, if anything, to food flavor.
- Enjoy! And we encourage you to share your yummy recipes with us in the comment section below.