If you’ve ever enjoyed a savory meal with a rich umami flavor, chances are you’ve tasted monosodium glutamate (MSG).
This popular flavor enhancer is commonly used in a variety of dishes, from soups and stews to snacks and condiments. But with recent controversy surrounding the use of pig enzymes in MSG production, many people are left wondering: is MSG made from pork?
In this article, we’ll dive into the truth behind MSG production and explore the various uses and benefits of this widely-used ingredient.
So sit back, relax, and get ready to learn all about MSG!
Is MSG Made From Pork?
MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is a flavor enhancer that is commonly used in a variety of foods. It is made from the sodium salt of glutamic acid, which is an amino acid that is naturally found in many foods we eat every day.
While some people have raised concerns about the use of pig enzymes in MSG production, the truth is that MSG is typically made through fermentation of plant-based ingredients such as sugar cane, sugar beets, cassava or corn. This means that MSG is not made from pork and does not contain any pig enzymes.
It’s important to note that while MSG itself is not made from pork, it may still be present in some meat products that contain MSG as a flavor enhancer. However, this does not mean that the MSG itself is derived from pork.
What Is MSG And How Is It Made?
MSG is a sodium salt of glutamic acid, which is naturally present in our bodies and many foods. It is a flavor enhancer that is commonly used in processed foods, snacks, and restaurant dishes. MSG occurs naturally in some foods such as tomatoes and cheeses. People around the world have eaten glutamate-rich foods throughout history. In fact, a historical dish in the Asian community is a glutamate-rich seaweed broth.
MSG was discovered more than 100 years ago by a Japanese chemist named Kikunae Ikeda, who derived it from seaweed and discovered that it had unique flavor-enhancing properties. Today, instead of extracting and crystallizing MSG from seaweed broth, MSG is produced by the fermentation of starch, sugar beets, sugar cane or molasses. This fermentation process is similar to that used to make yogurt, vinegar and wine.
The process starts with the fermentation of plant-based ingredients such as sugar cane or corn. Carbohydrates from these crops are fermented to produce glutamate which is purified and crystallized before drying. The finished product is a pure, white crystal that dissolves easily and blends well in many recipes.
MSG production has evolved over time. Initially, hydrolysis of vegetable proteins with hydrochloric acid was used to disrupt peptide bonds from 1909 to 1962. Then, direct chemical synthesis with acrylonitrile was used from 1962 to 1973. Currently, most MSG worldwide is produced by bacterial fermentation in a process similar to making vinegar or yogurt. During fermentation, Corynebacterium species are cultured with ammonia and carbohydrates from sugar beets, sugarcane, tapioca or molasses. These bacteria excrete amino acids into a culture broth from which L-glutamate is isolated. The conversion yield and production rate (from sugars to glutamate) continue to improve in the industrial production of MSG.
The Controversy Surrounding Pig Enzymes In MSG Production
Despite the fact that MSG is not made from pork, there has been controversy surrounding the use of pig enzymes in MSG production. This controversy was sparked by revelations that the Indonesian subsidiary of Japan’s Ajinomoto Co continued to use pork enzymes during the audit period. This has led many to label the government weak and ineffective.
However, it’s important to note that the use of pig enzymes in MSG production is not common practice. In fact, most MSG is made through fermentation of plant-based ingredients, as mentioned earlier. The use of pig enzymes is not necessary for the production of MSG and is therefore not a widespread practice.
It’s also worth noting that scientific tests have shown that Ajinomoto products are “halal,” meaning they are permissible under Islamic law. This should provide reassurance to those who may have concerns about the use of pig enzymes in MSG production.
Is MSG Safe To Eat?
Despite the controversy surrounding MSG, it is generally considered safe to eat. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified MSG as a food ingredient that’s generally recognized as safe, as have global food-regulating bodies like the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Additionally, MSG is FDA-approved and safe for all people, including children and pregnant people.
While some people may be more sensitive to MSG than others, experts generally consider it safe, especially in smaller doses. Safety of food additives is determined by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives, which notes the acceptable daily intake (ADI) of food additives. MSG is listed as “ADI not specified” along with other additives that pose no health risk.
There have been reports of symptoms such as headache and nausea after eating foods containing MSG, but the FDA has not been able to confirm that the MSG caused these effects. In fact, newer research questions the accuracy of its purported adverse effects on human health. One FDA-commissioned report identified a few “short-term, transient, and generally mild symptoms” of consuming MSG, including headache, numbness, flushing, tingling, palpitations, and drowsiness, but only in sensitive individuals who consume 3 grams or more of MSG without food—an unlikely scenario.
The Various Uses Of MSG In Cooking
MSG is a popular ingredient in many cuisines around the world due to its ability to enhance the savory flavors of food and add umami taste. It works best when used with savory foods such as protein-based dishes like meats, poultry, eggs, and vegetable dishes. Additionally, gravies, sauces, and dressings can also benefit from the umami taste of MSG.
One of the best things about MSG is that it can be used in a variety of dishes. It works well in soups, stews, and stocks as well as braised meats, tomato sauce, and vegetable dishes. Chefs often use it at the end of the cooking process to round out a slow-cooked braise or sauce or finish a stir-fry.
When using MSG in cooking, it is important to remember that a little goes a long way. About 1/2 teaspoon of MSG is enough to season a pound of meat or a dish that serves 4 to 6 people. It is recommended to add MSG before or during cooking at the same time you would add other seasonings like salt and pepper. However, it’s essential to note that MSG cannot make bad food suddenly taste delicious. It will only enhance the flavor of good food.
MSG can be found in the spice aisle or Asian foods section of your local grocery store. It comes as a granulated white powder similar in appearance to salt and may be found under the brand names of Ajinomoto® or Ac’cent®. When using MSG for the first time, start with a smaller amount and adjust upwards to suit your taste until you’re used to cooking with it.
The Benefits Of Using MSG In Food
There are several benefits to using MSG in food. One of the biggest reasons that food manufacturers continue to use MSG is the flavor it brings out. MSG heightens the umami flavor in their food products – that salty, savory, meaty flavor that makes our mouths water! It does not, however, add any flavor of its own and does not enhance fruity or sweet flavors. MSG enhances the flavor of salty, savory foods and is lower in sodium than salt – it contains only a third of the amount of sodium you would find in salt.
Researchers have found that including MSG in food may even help reduce excessive salt intake, which can contribute to cardiovascular disease. Many manufacturers of processed foods who wish to cut back on salt content but not flavor add MSG to keep consumers enjoying the products they’ve come to know and love.
In addition to enhancing flavor, studies show that umami substances like MSG can lower the desire to salt foods. Salt is another flavor enhancer, and some research postulates that replacing some salt with MSG can reduce people’s sodium intake by approximately 3% without sacrificing flavor. Similarly, MSG may be used as a salt substitute in low-sodium products like soups, prepackaged meals, cold meats, and dairy products.
MSG may also increase satiety while curbing appetite. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that MSG could increase satiety when added to a high-energy, high-protein soup. Moreover, it showed that while the addition of MSG increased the level of satiety, it helped curb the participants’ appetite, especially on high-fat foods. Such benefits are a good thing, especially for those trying to lessen their food intake to lose some weight. They can curb their appetite while still feeling full and satisfied in terms of what they eat.
Lastly, improving the flavor of food and adding MSG to meals can help improve overall health among elderly individuals. As one gets older, the sense of taste, smell, and oral function starts to decline, leading to poor diet quality and appetite. Intensifying flavors and tastes through the addition of seasoning such as MSG can improve food palatability and acceptance, increase salivary flow for easier chewing and swallowing, and reduce oral complaints among elderlies.
Alternatives To MSG For Flavor Enhancement
While MSG has been a popular flavor enhancer for nearly a century, some consumers are looking for alternatives. Here are some options:
1. Yeast Extract: This is a natural source of glutamic acid, which provides the umami flavor that MSG is known for. Yeast extract can be used in soups, stews, and sauces to enhance the savory taste of dishes.
2. Soy Sauce: Soy sauce is another natural source of glutamic acid and can be used to add depth and complexity to a variety of dishes. It is commonly used in Asian cuisine and can be added to marinades, stir-fries, and dipping sauces.
3. Parmesan Cheese: Parmesan cheese is rich in glutamic acid and can be grated over pasta dishes, salads, and roasted vegetables to add a savory flavor.
4. Miso Paste: Miso paste is made from fermented soybeans and can be used to add a rich umami flavor to soups, marinades, and dressings.
5. Anchovy Paste: Anchovy paste is a concentrated form of anchovies that can be used to add a salty, savory flavor to dishes like Caesar salad dressing or pasta sauces.
6. Mushroom Powder: Mushroom powder is made from dried mushrooms and can be used as a natural flavor enhancer in soups, stews, and gravies.
7. Tomato Paste: Tomato paste is a concentrated form of tomatoes that can be added to sauces, soups, and stews to enhance the umami flavor.
While these alternatives may not provide the exact same flavor as MSG, they offer natural sources of glutamic acid that can enhance the savory taste of dishes. It’s important to experiment with different ingredients to find what works best for your personal taste preferences.