Where to Buy MSG
You can buy food grade Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) locally at most supermarkets and even some convenience stores. It’s commonly sold as Accent brand flavor enhancer – but be sure to check the ingredients if you need 100% MSG, as that brand offers many “blends” that contain spices and other ingredients.
If you can’t find it locally, you can buy it online in various quantities. As with buying in-store, be sure to check the ingredients list to make sure you know exactly what you’re getting.
What is MSG?
Monosodium Glutamate is a popular “flavor enhancer” invented in an effort to recreate the flavor of kombu. Kombu, an edible seaweed, is a common ingredient in many Japanese dishes. Monosodium Glutamate or MSG is the 1908 brainchild of Japanese biochemist Kikunae Ikeda who referred to its flavor as umami. His discovery came on the heels of the 1866 discovery of glutamic acid by the German chemist Karl Ritthausen who found it by mixing sulfuric acid and wheat gluten.
Odorless, white colored and powdery, monosodium glutamate is used like a spice by adding it to food that is being prepared for cooking. It enhances the perception of the flavor of foods such as soups, meat and many processed dishes made in fast food restaurants. MSG is the salt, or crystallized form of glutamic acid, which is a naturally occurring chemical found in many foods around the world, including meat, parmesan cheese, and soy sauce.
MSG is produced in one of three ways: acid hydrolysis, synthesis with acrylonitrile, or by bacterial fermentation. Acid hydrolysis consists of mixing hydrochloric acid with vegetables in order to break the peptide bonds forming the vegetable proteins; glutamic acid is the byproduct formed by the bonds breaking that then bond with free sodium ions to produce MSG. Chemically synthesizing it from a polymer known as acrylonitrile took place in the 1950s.
Today the most common method for producing MSG is through bacterial fermentation. This process uses natural bacteria from molasses, sugar cane, or sugar beets. Interestingly, when used in food that also contain real sugars, it browns in the same way at high temperatures.
Uses of Monosodium Glutamate in Food
It is used in many different types of food, particularly fast food and processed snack items like seasoned corn chips, canned soups, fried chicken, sausages, and many other items that have a “savory” taste.
MSG and Health
The United States Department of Agriculture classifies Monosodium Glutamate as a “generally regarded as safe” flavor enhancer. It was removed from the “spices” category in 1998. The USDA requires any food containing MSG to be labeled as such. It has been weakly linked to some allergic reactions such as headaches and nausea, these tend to be short term and require no treatment.