In a nutshell: Monosodium glutamate

MSG: fabulous flavour enhancer or dirty drug? What's it all about? Find out here.
 

In a nutshell: Monosodium glutamate

What is it?

MSG is a commonly used flavour enhancer extracted from an amino acid that occurs naturally in wheat gluten, seaweed and other produce. It’s used in many foods, from flavoured crisps to sausages, and sauces to stock cubes – but it’s particularly associated with Chinese restaurants. Many Chinese (and other Asian) cooks use MSG; it’s sold as ‘gourmet powder’ in Chinese food shops. And if you see E621 listed on packaged food, that’s MSG, too.

Why all the fuss?

MSG gets a lot of bad press. Its detractors claim it causes anxiety, dizziness and headaches, aka ‘Chinese restaurant syndrome’.

Is it safe?

In the UK, all E-number additives have passed safety tests and have been approved by the EU. Some people, however, may be sensitive to certain additives.

How can I avoid MSG?

If you think you may be sensitive to MSG, check food labels and avoid restaurants that refuse to cook dishes without it. Of course, you can also cook your own Chinese food from scratch; many Chinese chefs and food writers agree that MSG is unnecessary. By using top-quality ingredients, spicing and seasoning them well, and honing your stir-frying and braising techniques, you won’t need flavour enhancers. So celebrate Chinese New Year (in February) in your kitchen with a selection of our Chinese recipes (no MSG in sight!)

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