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#99 MSG

Posted November 12th, 2008 by Shaun · 28 Comments
15,076 views, this piece does not refer to the famed Madison Square Garden in New York City, but rather that food additive known as Mono Sodium Glutamate, more commonly abbreviated as MSG. This addictive flavor enhancer goes by several names: MSG, Ajinomoto, Vetsin, The Essence of Taste & Mega Salty Goodness. Okay, the last one was totally made up; however I have half a mind to trademark it, because that essentially describes the product perfectly. MSG = Mega Salty Goodness™!!!

MSG is a sodium salt which contains amino & glutamic acids, and is usually marketed as a flavor enhancer. As such, the use of MSG as a flavor enhancer has inextricably been linked to Asian cuisine. The chemical compound for MSG was extracted 1907 and patented by the Ajinomoto Corporation in 1909. The product is so associated with Ajinomoto that the company’s name has also become a namesake for the MSG product itself – unsurprising as Ajinomoto produces one-third of the world’s MSG. why is MSG so appealing to Asians? What is it about MSG that makes us lick our lips in delight and compels us to add the ingredient to every dish we create? Quite simply, the taste of MSG is something of pure bliss and is something quite incomparable. Who needs regular herbs and spices, salt or pepper, when you have this artificial enhancer that tastes like party in your mouth! However, the tendency to add MSG is Asian cuisine is something akin to an alcoholic adding vodka to each and every drink. It is now a widespread routine for Asian chefs to use MSG flavor enhancement in lieu of actual culinary prowess, which is something that has wreaked havoc on our concepts of “good health”. then again, is that momentary burst of taste provided by MSG totally worth it? To invite the comparison with booze yet again, the feeling one gets after consumption is similar to what some would like to label the “MSG hangover”. Okay, so it’s not as bad as a regular hangover, but after consuming excessive MSG, one feels immediate dryness of the throat, the need for water and the inner guilt that you are ruining your own body’s metabolic system. MSG addicts become totally addicted to the stuff, and have irresistible cravings for MSG… similar to how Sylar on Heroes has the uncontrollable urge to cut open people’s heads – yep, it gets that bad! After consuming MSG-laden products, you may also experience light-headedness, drowsiness and momentarily forget how to drive. (Oh wait, that is alcohol… my bad!)

Stopping short of creating an MSG Anonymous (MSGA) group, one must realize why MSG has become so prominent in not only Asian, but global cuisine. Efficiency is a trait valued by the Asian people, however as such; it is difficult for Asian chefs to be simultaneously efficient and effective. Food preparation often proves to be a challenging service, and often the “efficiency” aspect of cooking is valued above all else. After all, MSG is a most certainly an efficient way in which to instill flavor to cuisine without breaking a sweat. Heck, some people cannot even identify the MSG product or distinguish it from regular seasoning, hence where the “effectiveness” element comes into play.

Western cuisine has been so often been plagued with criticism, usually in relation to the food’s high fat and sugar content. After all, it is common knowledge that the rest of the world looks towards Americans as having a severe obesity crisis. Maybe it is because of their rapid consumption of McDonald’s burgers everyday – overflowing with fatty goodness! Okay, that’s an absolute generalization, and this writer apologizes profusely. However, the point is that Asian cuisine has always been looked at favorably, as the healthy yin to the Western junk food’s unhealthy yang.

After all, Japanese people have the highest average life expectancy of all nations in the world – which may have something to do with their healthy dietary intake for one. But where does MSG fit in all this? Before MSG became a mandatory ingredient in Asian cuisine, we would look towards the West for our fill of unhealthy junk food. Now, all Asians must do is add MSG to food and voila, you have Asian junk food – which is something to rival Western cuisine in terms of unhealthy eating. this final segment, I was going to list down all the examples of Asian cuisine that uses MSG in their creation… however after much thought; I figured that it would probably be easier to list down Asian dishes without any trace of MSG… Hmm, come to think of it, it’s not that easy. How about sushi? Mapo tofu? Plain steamed rice? Surely prawn crackers don’t have MSG! Even then, it is dubious as to whether chefs add a little MSG goodness while you’re not looking anyway. After all, it helps in the cooking process, is a quickfire method of seasoning food, and if you can get past the prospective headaches, nausea, stomach disorders, fatigue and depression that come with digesting excessive MSG, then what’s the problem – let’s continue consuming MSG to our hearts’ content!

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Tags: Activities · Chinese · Customs · Environment · Food & Beverage · Habits · Japanese · Korean · People · Vietnamese

28 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Derek // Nov 12, 2008 at 5:02 pm

    It cracks me up that for your MSG article you used a picture of Sesame Chicken, one of the few dishes typically not made with any MSG.

  • 2 Derek // Nov 13, 2008 at 7:07 pm

    Aw, you had to go and fix it. Oh, well; it was tons of giggles while it lasted.

  • 3 Shaun // Nov 13, 2008 at 7:11 pm

    wasn’t me… *looks around*

  • 4 s00ky // Nov 14, 2008 at 7:00 pm


    im humgry now


  • 5 Aaron Lo // Nov 15, 2008 at 12:57 am

    Wow, this is an interesting blog. Shame on me, I just discovered this today.

    I am Asian (from Malaysia). As much as I like reading the lists of stuffs Asian people like, I think some on the list are unique to only people in specific parts of Asia. For instance, the “Lah” post. I think this is something distinctively Malaysian/Singaporean and is probably not relevant at all to say, Northeast Asian.

    And furthermore the definition of the word “Asian” seemed to be ambiguous. If we term “Asian” those who live in the continent of Asia, what about Indians, Middle eastern, etc? Many of the posts seemed to refer to “Asians” as the typical yellow skin, black hair/eye, hairless (as in body) Asians who lived in countries bordering the pacific ocean (east Asia).

    Anyhow, that just proves that Asian is never a homogeneous entity and to come from a continent of diverse cultures, I am a proud Asian.

    Keep up the good work, guys!

  • 6 Shaun // Nov 15, 2008 at 5:31 am

    Glad to see we have another person on board the SAPL bandwagon Aaron! Do you know any way in which we could draw more readers in by any chance? It’s tough work trying to stumble upon SAPL, someday I’ll regal you all with tales of how I managed to stumble upon SAPL – it was quite unorthodox to say the least…

    The term “Asian” most certainly refers to Middle Easterns and Indians/Sri Lankans etc as well, except for the fact that we tend to group them in those terms rather than under the “Asian” bracket – so unfortunately yes, we do end up having that stereotype that Asian = yellow skin, black hair, oh well…

    Glad to see you like our work, and as I also wrote the “Lah” piece, I know that something like “Lah” is quite South-East Asian centric – but hey it is something “Asians” like… and I suppose I just wanted a way to vent… all my relatives say “lah” every second word!

    Anywhoo, keep up reading SAPL, it’s good stuff ain’t it?

  • 7 catherine // Nov 15, 2008 at 7:45 pm


  • 8 deanne // Nov 30, 2008 at 5:31 am

    Hahaha! MSG is it! In our very asian household however (I’m from the Philippines), MSG isn’t a staple ingredient but I would have to agree that it is everywhere.

    I get MSG headaches …

  • 9 Aoede // Dec 11, 2008 at 8:15 pm

    No, it’s not made of amino and glutamic acids. Glutamate IS an amino acid.

    Asians are good at math should extend to Asians are good at science – shame on you! :D

  • 10 Amy // Dec 15, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    Hmm, actually most true Asians I know dislike MSG. It’s seen as an ingredient that Western-Asian resteraunts need to make their food flavorful. Plus, a lot of true Asian food is made with natural ingredients…

  • 11 MsK // Jan 10, 2009 at 7:00 pm

    this is a good post for the most part everything is true. everyone i know uses MSG except for one certain individual. Me. I actually cannot tell the difference between of MSG and non MSG.

  • 12 Stuff Ghetto People Like // Jun 2, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    I never knew MSG packets actually existed. Pretty vile stuff.

    Americans are likely aware of Accent. Up until the 80s, folks would dump that stuff on everything. Then the anti-MSG campaign began, and Accent was all but withdrawn from the market…it’s definitely not in most cabinets anymore, and the commercials are lonnnnng gone.

  • 13 Ben // Aug 18, 2009 at 7:21 am

    Koreans put a load of it in their cup noodles right? Cause I went on a sports trip and my coach confiscated around 15 of them because they caused dehydration ect.
    But they really do taste great

  • 14 Sarah // Oct 12, 2009 at 7:13 pm

    i have to agree with this post 100%! In my “spice” cupboard, the msg jar sits pretty snugly inbetween the salf, sugar, pepper, soy sauce and fish sauce.
    we do try to use the minimal amount though =)

    once my mum mistook the msg for salt, and our whole family went through an MSG rollercoaster

    let’s not forget that one of the most recognisable and loved brand in the world -Pringles- happens to contain some Mega Salty Goodness

  • 15 Sarah // Oct 12, 2009 at 7:19 pm

    just on the comment about stumbling onto SAPL, i think mine was quite wierd…

    i was looking up “why do asians have dry earwax” and google helpfully tried to complete my search and listed “why do asians have no soul” which caught my interest,
    upon clicking that i deviated to “why do asians have almond eyes”, then to this ad for contact lenses that “enlarge” your eyes, and then the article #41 eye enlargement, and now i’m hooked =D

  • 16 Alyssa // Oct 17, 2009 at 10:19 am

    I stumbled on this article on totally accident, but i love the coincidental fact that I have an MSG intolerance. Finding good MSG free food is VERY difficult now, especially in a small city with walmart as your grocery store… if anybody has any good brands that are MSG free? it would help A LOT

  • 17 Bobby // May 28, 2010 at 10:08 pm

    Here in China, they sell bags of MSG at every corner store, and I even saw a commercial for MSG on TV.

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  • 21 Kat // Oct 31, 2010 at 9:06 pm

    MSG rocks!

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  • 24 trulyasian // Apr 22, 2011 at 10:19 am

    nah. MSG isnt big here, MSG does go into some chinese or vietnamese foods but not all. asians cook their food with fresh ingreients. they dont really rely on MSG. but it’s true that it it’s magic to dishes.

    AND YES, you are talking about EAST/SOUTHEAST ASIA right? cause i dont think you’re taking into account middle east…they are in asia continent too

  • 25 celesul // Aug 9, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    I go to college with a lot of Asians, and we end up having conversations sometimes that amount to “MSG is so tasty, right?” “I know. I bet this has some. It’s sooo good”.

    While MSG is not a good substitute for cooking well, MSG used by a good cook is divine.

  • 26 cliff // Jan 23, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    i have to correct you.
    MSG is not an artificial ingredient
    it is a “natural” ingredient derived from plants.
    i know i’m right because my parents used to own a Chinese restaurant (big surprise)

  • 27 Richard16378 // Apr 5, 2012 at 10:39 am

    My Dad likes Chinese food but has problems with MSG, which makes things tricky.

  • 28 ilovehorseyrides // Sep 26, 2015 at 7:24 pm

    MSG is really unhealthy. My family tries to avoid it at all costs.

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