A flavor enhancing substance which occurs
naturally in some foods such as mushrooms, tomatoes, kelp and soy sauce.
It is also made from wheat or from glutamic acid recovered from sugar
beet molasses. While it has very little taste of its own, when added to
foods, it acts as a catalyst to bring out other flavors by stimulating
taste buds and increasing saliva in the mouth.
In Japan it is known as aji-no-moto, in
China as ve-tsin, and in America it is sold as 'ac-cent'. Many years ago
it was impossible to buy stock cubes or packet soups which did not
include it in the ingredients. It is not always mentioned by name, and
often listed as 'flavor enhancer 621' or simply '621'.
In many Chinese and Japanese restaurants and
also those with strong Chinese influence such as the Nyonya cooking of
Singapore, the addition of MSG, as it is familiarly called, is normal
procedure. However, some people react badly to it. Ever since this was
discovered, much has been made of MSG not being used. This seems only
fair, since symptoms of 'Chinese restaurant syndrome', as it has been
dubbed, can cause chest pains, asthma attacks, loss of balance,
flushing, headache, numbness, dizziness, heart palpitations and a raging
Baby food manufacturers were forced to omit
MSG from their formulae on the grounds that it was suspected of causing
brain damage in infants. Just in case someone you are cooking for is
allergic to MSG, it is strongly recommended to omit using it. With fresh
ingredients and adequate seasoning, it is quite unnecessary.