With such a scientific name as monosodium glutamate, one might assume it is the end result of a food chemist's secret experiment. The fact that monosodium glutamate is used extensively in Asian recipes
might lead others to believe it is an ancient Chinese herb. The truth lies somewhere in the middle, actually. Monosodium glutamate, commonly abbreviated MSG, was developed by a Japanese food chemist around 1907. He based his developmental research on the ancient use of seaweed as a flavor enhancer in Asian dishes, but the end result is a man-made commercial product.
Monosodium glutamate is a sodium
salt derivative of a natural amino acid
called glutamate. Glutamate itself is extremely common -- practically every plant and animal species contains levels of glutamate. Bacteria which consume glutamate excrete glutamic acid. Commercial production of monosodium glutamate requires large vats of harmless bacteria to convert glutamate from sugars or starches into glutamic acid. This acid is then allowed to evaporate, and the remaining brownish white or white crystals are sold as pure monosodium glutamate.
Monosodium glutamate is almost completely tasteless by itself. What it does is enhance the flavors of certain savory or meaty foods by awakening special taste buds on the tongue. It is thought that a fifth taste sense called umami
is responsible for the pleasant flavor of a steak or vegetables
in a savory sauce. Critics of MSG suggest that properly seasoned meats and vegetables shouldn't need such flavor enhancement, but monosodium glutamate does seem to bring out more of the food's natural essences.The use of monosodium glutamate has become very controversial in recent years. Although the USDA and other enforcers of food safety have long held that MSG is generally considered safe, critics have cited numerous incidents of a condition known as Chinese Restaurant Headache. Some people have a natural sensitivity towards the glutens found in monosodium glutamate. It is similar to a wheatallergy or an anaphylactic reaction to shellfish. Approximately an hour after consuming a meal containing MSG, certain people may experience symptoms ranging from a rash to a migraine-level headache or even anaphylactic shock. For this reason, many Asian restaurants have voluntarily stopped using monosodium glutamate altogether, or have specific notifications about its use
The portion in red is why I don't use it.
When I have had Chinese food prepared with MSG, I experience stuffed up sinuses like you wouldn't believe ....