Monosodium Glutamate Herb: Health Benefits, Uses, Facts

MSG, ‘Taste Powder1, Vetsin, Gourmet powder, P’sst etc.

FR: Glutamate de soude GER: Mononatriumglutamat IT: Glutiminato di soda JAPAN: Aji no moto PEKING CHINESE: Mei Jing SP: Glutamato de sodio

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a white crystalline chemical, a sodium salt of glutamic acid, as common salt is the sodium salt of hydrochloric acid. There comparison ends, because glutamic acid is one of the organic amino acids. Amino acids are the bricks from which proteins are built and may be formed when proteins are broken down. Some are essential food substances, although glutamic acid itself is not. Glutamic acid is, in fact, a component of gluten (a protein of wheat), the sticky substance that makes flour ‘stand up’ when baked in bread or cakes.

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MSG was originally made from wheat, but chemists are always looking for cheaper sources, and nowadays it is made from glutamic acid recovered from sugar beet molasses or even more cheaply by fermenting with special bacteria, solutions of glucose containing simple nitrogen compounds. Yields as high as twenty-three per cent of the fermented glucose can be obtained by this means.

We mention this in detail because some people like to know what they are eating, especially when the chemical industry is involved. Monosodium glutamate appears to be reasonably harmless, but when used regularly is suspected of causing liver damage and is condemned by some authorities. It is made in almost all industrialized countries throughout Europe, and in America, China and Japan. It is used a great deal in commercial goods, particularly in soups and stock cubes. It also occurs naturally in soy bean sauce.

MSG is available in the shops under various trade names. It has almost no taste of its own but has the unusual property of intensifying the flavours of other things – particularly of meat. It is not traditional in any cookery except as it occurs in natural products of China and the Far East. In Europe and America it is a twentieth-century ingredient. You can add it to anything if you find it improves the flavour.

During the writing of this blog I have had correspondence with many countries, and amongst other items received an excellent bloglet from the People’s Republic of China. This contains a recipe which for sheer splendid economy must surely be quoted.

‘A Chinese cook can make a soup fit for the gods merely by adding a handful of fresh greens to 2 cups of boiling water, and pouring the whole over V2 teaspoon of Monosodium glutamate and 2 teaspoons of salt. ’

Mouthfeel

This word has been coined by technicians to cover a number of sensations produced by foods which are strictly speaking neither taste nor aroma. First there is the temperature at which food is eaten; anything from several degrees below freezing to halfway towards boiling (circa 106°F, 50°C). Temperature is an important sensation in itself, and also has a strong influence on the degree with which flavours are tasted. Some are enhanced by heat, others by cold.

Then there is the texture of the food: wetness, dryness, roughness, slipperiness, oiliness, bite and so on. Texture is of enormous importance in food, but it does not directly concern us in this blog. Other mouthfeelings, because they are commonly regarded as a part of taste, are of importance to us: pain (strong mustard, red chilli, horseradish, pepper); anaesthesia (cloves and vanilla); coolness (menthol and mint); and astringency or puckering of the mouth membranes (alum and sloes).

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