What is MSG?:
Some people find that consuming MSG in food can trigger side effects and symptoms including headaches, nausea and others. We'll talk more about MSG side effects in a moment.
Are you worried about MSG in food?MSG is derived from an amino acid called glutamic acid, which occurs naturally in foods such as mushrooms, aged parmesan cheese and fermented soybean products like soy sauce. Glutamic acid belongs to a broad category of compounds called glutamates, which are the source of a flavor called umami.
MSG and Umami:
In addition to its own distinctive taste, umami also has the property of enhancing other flavors by imparting a depth and fullness to them.
Therefore, since MSG is a synthetic glutamate, adding MSG to food does two things: It adds umaminess, while also enhancing and intensifying other tastes — in particular the salty and sour ones.
Cooking with MSG:
In Asian cuisines, MSG is used as a seasoning during cooking — indeed, Asian grocery stores sell sacks of pure MSG, in the form of a crystalline white powder, which is then sprinkled into stir-frys and other preparations. Latin American and Caribbean cuisines also incorporate MSG, particularly in spice rubs. And in the U.S., Accent flavor enhancer is almost pure MSG.
MSG in Food:
- Flavored (especially cheese-flavored) chips and crackers
- Canned soups
- Instant noodles
- Soup and dip mixes
- Seasoning salt
- Bouillon cubes
- Salad dressings
- Gravy mixes or pre-made gravies
- Cold cuts and hot dogs, including soy-based (i.e. vegetarian) varieties
MSG Side Effects:
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Flushing or excessive sweating
- Skin rash
- Intense thirst
- Lethargy or sleepiness
- Ringing ears
- Tingling in the mouth
MSG Safety Concerns:
Suffer from asthma? The FDA admits that people with asthma may have trouble breathing after consuming MSG (scroll to 4th paragraph from the end). Is that safe? Maybe, maybe not — depending on how high a priority one sets on breathing.
There's more. A 2008 study showed a connection between MSG consumption and obesity. Safe? Again, you decide. But whatever you decide, it surely can't hurt to pay attention to what you're eating, what's in the food you're eating — and how it makes you feel.