Nov 2008

Readers’ Poll II

While Monosodium Glumate (MSG) is frowned upon by the American public, it is embraced by home and professional cooks in a number of Asian countries including Vietnam, Thailand and China. In the Vietnamese language, MSG is referred to as bột ngọt or ‘sweet powder’—a term of affection if you will.

My grandmother continues to sprinkle sweet powder in all of her dishes, while my aunts have chosen to prepare their Vietnamese foods without. Just out of curiosity…

If the provided answers are insufficient, feel free to elaborate in the comments section. Also, check out this hilarious virtual rant—MSG: Slowly Poisoning America—that I stumbled upon while researching America’s relationship with MSG. My favorite part is where she talks about “sit down” restaurants.

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24 thoughts on “Readers’ Poll II

  1. I used to cook and eat MSG until I learned that it is a bad chemical for your body and the less chemical we consume, the less chance of us getting sick.

  2. I just don’t see the point of using MSG. It doesn’t exist in the culinary world, none of the top chefs have ever made their world famous dish with it, nor include it in their recipe. To me it’s all about finding a balance in good old salt, and pepper…and maybe a pinch of sugar with fresh herbs and hundred different types of spices 🙂

    Plus it makes me really really thirsty!

  3. I consider MSG cheating. Some people can’t make food taste good the right way so they add an artificial flavoring that stimulates your taste bug and makes you think you;re easing good food. A good cook makes the food take good because the its really good not by some chemical cheat.

  4. I am completely ANTI MSG.. I agreed with Nhat..if you really know how to cook you don’t need this crap…
    However to my dismay my husband always uses it.. i always sneakily throw it away when he is not looking…or giving it to the plant for fertilizer ( a trick i learned from my friend).

  5. I am not completely against the use of MSG; however, upon eating dishes with or without it, I have found no significant difference between the two.

    My mother who’s been using that for ages says otherwise. She says it makes a dish more meaty, but I have yet to experience that.

  6. I would not add MSG but I do think its bad reputation is overhyped. MSG is not only used in Asian cuisine as a flavoured enhancer. Any flavoured chips (love it!) will have MSG listed. As well, glutamate is naturally occurring in a number of foods: tomatoes, parmesan, soy sauce. Anything flavourful really!

  7. Jeffrey Steingarten writes about the bad hype on MSG. The fact is that millions of asians (er billions) eat MSG regularly and don’t get headaches. Most of the MSG headache is in the mind (ar) or just due to dehydration from the salt in the food. I don’t see MSG as being any different than adding soy sauce, maggi, or table salt for that matter. Its a flavor enhancer in the sense that salt and sugar are – it doesn’t “trick” the brain as some may have you believe. Rather, it is the glutamate that is detected by our “umami” taste buds. Like salting a tomato makes it taste more tomtaoe-ey, and sugar in chocolate makes it taste more chocolate-y… MSG is just a plant derived substance, not manufactured from petroleum or bad for you like preservatives.

  8. I agree with Miss.Adventure, I don’t use it but I think the bad reputation for MSG is simply just overhyped. It is truly not that bad. I don’t use it because I can’t taste the difference when it is added to the dish, but I will eat any dish prepared with it (I really don’t mind).

  9. I’m definitely against food ingredient like this. Food, whatever fresh they are purchased from a farmers’ market, will be ruined by adding this kind of ‘seasoning’. Food is much better tasted WITHOUT this thing. Horrible thing! I’ve voted and is quite pretty amazed that how many of the voters choose indifferent!

  10. WC- sounds like you may be allergic to MSG

    Glutamate in food makes it taste protein-y (umami), but in your brain it has a different function as a neurotransmitter. Most people have molecular “pumps” to keep the glutamate that you eat out of your brain, but some people have defective pumps and are therefore “allergic” to MSG.

  11. I use it very sparingly in my cooking, about 15% of the time. Most of the time I don’t need to add it, but I’m not against using it as long as it’s in quantity of less than 1 tsp per 10-12 quart of stock. A friend of mine who is a professional cook told me that there are differences in brands too. I use the Japanese brand and I don’t have any adverse reaction to it, but sometimes some restaurants’ food just give me an immense headache after I eat their food; my friend said it’s because they use some cheaper type of msg, not because they put too much.

  12. LOVE IT! I think it can make a big difference in the flavor of savory dishes. I’ve never had any reaction to it other than intense enjoyment.

    Also, msg, by one name or another is in a huge variety of the processed and prepared foods out there. So, if you feel ill after eating Chinese food, but not after eating parmesan cheese or Doritos, it’s all in your head.

  13. I have a very bad reaction to MSG – a full on classic migraine with aura. Flashing lights, sensitivity to noise, difficulty talking, numbness down the entire left hand side of my body, vomitting, and intense headache. Knocks me flat for 3 days.

    Yes this is a pretty extreme reaction, as I know most people have no reaction at all. Needless to say I avoid MSG at all costs!!

  14. I may not be able to live without fish sauce, but the addition of msg is pretty much not needed for flavoring viet foods. My mom is allergic to msg so we never used it growing up, and to this day I still will not add it to foods I make at home. MSG to me is like esctasy for your taste buds. It just enhances the way foods taste and helps to cut down on the amount of seasoning that is needed (hence it’s a cheaper alternative to using more salt and sugar), but in the end if the food has not been properly seasoned it’ll still taste flat even if you add msg.

    When eating asian foods outside the home msg may be virtually unavoidable, but I find that I tend to avoid places where the food has a heavy artificial after taste or gives me headaches.

  15. We don’t use msg here due to my dad. Often he’d eat something in a restaraunt without knowing it was added to a dish and 5 mins later, he’d have to run off and be very sick. : /
    We don’t know why it happens, but it isn’t a very pleasant way to spend an evening out.

    Otherwise, it really makes no difference to me, taste or flavour wise. I would rather not have it though 🙂

  16. Everyone – Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts and experiences with MSG. Before living in Vietnam and traveling across Asia, I would’ve voted with the “against” crowd, but these days I’m with the majority—fairly indifferent (but with positive leanings).

  17. I only use MSG when I am cooking something and it feels as it is missing something. The MSG brings all the flavors together. I use just a sprinkle not too much.

  18. Great topic and forum! I love discussions like this!

    MSG is often abused in dishes by some cooks, where in used in large amounts, gets a bad rap. I know of many cooks out there that use ridiculous amounts of it (cup fulls), and I think that’s irresponsible and dangerous. I don’t think it’s necessary to use MSG in food, but do not think it deserves the bad rap that it gets. Just like all the sauces out there on the market, they’re used to flavor and when used moderately, can enhance foods, similar to MSG. Folks don’t realize it, but even though they avoid MSG, they eat those sauces that has tons of it, or some variation of MSG.

    I personally do not cook with MSG, but grew up eating it for a short time in my parents cooking. Since all the MSG awareness years ago, my parents have completely eliminated MSG in their a long time ago for the health reasons. But that’s what they grew up cooking with in VietNam, with loads of MSG.

    Slowly but surely, all the Viet cooks I know are avoiding it like the plague, although some of them still believe in sprinkling a little bit in as a light enhancer. But when I’m in VietNam, I see it used liberally. Again, slowly but surely, the news spreads and folks start to slowly eliminate it. My Aunt in VN avoids it all together, while my cousins still use it, cautiously.

    I suppose I would say that I am indifferent because although I do not cook with it, I know MSG exists in so many of the processed/ junk foods that I eat! And I certainly do not give up on that! But I’ve had meals that has WAY too much of it and it makes me sick and bloated.

    I would encourage cooks to not cook with it and try to use alternative, natural flavoring methods. But I would not be against eating food that someone fed me where they believed that a bit of it would make their cooking better. I’d still eat what they cook! As long as I don’t “taste” the MSG, I’m all good with their food.

  19. using msg is cheating in my opinion. also, it destroys me and several people i know. if you get palpitations in your heart one day, you’ll know why.

  20. I took a competition BBQ class from Dr. BBQ. It was a real treat. It was an all-night cookout with “judging” in the morning. Up late drinking beer with the CA state champions, the subject of MSG came up. “Take what you think you should add, and double it.” was the advice of the lead chef in that team. “But isn’t it harmful?” me and another guy asked. “No.” was the answer. That led me to research on the web, and personal tests at home. I find that I agree with the observation that MSG related illness is extremely rare. I think that if people “think” there is MSG in food then they will claim to have a reaction, but if there is no suspicion then only the 1 in 100,000 will actually be allergic. I think its less common than peanut allergy.

    So, having said that if you have dinner at my place, I may poison you with MSG (and, if someone told me they were allergic, I’d never use it!) I have cooked some phenomenal dishes using MSG as a finishing spice to sauces and stews, in salad dressings and other things.

    Do I need it? This question plagues me. I’m a great cook, and use great ingredients always. Let it stand on its own? Well, it tastes better sometimes with a little “Sweet Powder” in it. Is that bad? 3 billion people don’t think so. Are they wrong? If you read the history, it was a seaweed extract originally. Kombo. If I said my spaghetti sauce had Kombo in it would you put it back on the shelf? Probably. The thing is that really great ingredients trump MSG every time. And the other thing that is also true is that if you add a little MSG, and, if you add a lot it tastes like Chicken N A Biscuit, if you just add a little then it tastes better.

    I’m a cook. I want my food to taste good. Real MSG allergics are rare. I guess I’m rationalizing using Accent. Ah, just blow me.

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