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Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

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 thirst.

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.

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