What Foods Contain Monosodium Glutamate?
MSG, or monosodium glutamate, was isolated by scientists in 1907. Essentially a salt loaded with glutamic acid (an amino acid), MSG has been used as a flavor enhancer ever since it was patented in 1909. MSG produces a taste known as “umami,” which corresponds to the savory sensations found in meat, potatoes and rich greens like seaweed. In recent years a number of health concerns have arisen around MSG, most of which have been discounted by scientific studies. Regardless, some people still claim headaches from consumption of the additive, so it’s worth knowing what foods contain it.
Because MSG simulates the savory, rich flavor produced by meats, it is used in large quantities in bouillon. Thus one of the most concentrated sources of MSG is meat-flavoring cubes used for stocks, stews and soups.
Chinese and other Asian cuisines are infamous for spawning many of the current MSG fears. While MSG powder is used by a number of Asian chefs, the stigma attached to the powder has caused most Asian restaurants to drop it from their cuisine and advertise “No MSG.” Soups and seaweed dishes are especially likely to be high in MSG.
Producers of canned meat are likely to include MSG to combat the loss of flavor and the likely lower quality of the meat itself. MSG will typically be included on the ingredients label as “monosodium glutamate.”
Soups are the most likely culprit for MSG usage in restaurants or canned foods. Since MSG can deliver a savory sensation, the seasoning gives the sense that the soup is richer and thicker than it may actually be.
Those attempting to avoid MSG would be wise to consider its natural forms. While MSG is an artificially derived chemical, identical chemicals can be found in a number of foods. Foods rich in glutamic acid, essentially identical to MSG, include diary products, peas, meat and potatoes. Especially high concentrations exist in mushrooms and seaweed.