Whither MSG?

I recently came across a few tasty-sounding Asian recipes that called for MSG, or monosodium glutamate, as one of the ingredients. I thought that stuff had been long since discredited as the source of cancer and other various nasty ailments, but lo and behold, the FDA considers it safe as long as you don’t OD on the stuff. And even then the effects seem to largely consist of the short-term “MSG headache” and such. (Cecil, however, sounds a bit more alarmist note in this undated, and possibly older, Straight Dope classic.)

With visions of some tasty stir-frys dancing in my head, I headed out to the local store in search of a bottle of the stuff. No dice. In fact, none of the half-dozen grocery stores I’ve visited seems to carry the stuff, though I swear I remember seeing it on the shelves a few years ago.

So what’s the straight dope? Is MSG still being made, or have the scaremongers run it off the market? Or do stores just not stock it due to legal concerns? (though admittedly, this seems kind of unlikely, seeing as how they carry beer, et al.) And where can I get my hands on some?

I clearly remember it in the spice aisle, but that was a couple of years ago. I was impressed with the big yellow container simply labeled “MSG”.

From looking at their web page, it appears McCormick doesn’t make MSG. They have the biggest displays at the local supermarket, so that would make it harder to find.

I’ve seen it in stores (or at least, store) around here. If it’s not in the spice aisle, you might also check the ethnic foods aisle. There’s also plenty of foods still sold containing it: It’s the second or third ingredient in ramen noodle seasoning, for starters.

Look for Accent brand. It’s pure MSG. There’s probably other brands on the market, as well as generics, but I just checked MY shaker of Accent and it says “Ingredients: monosodium glutamate.” When using it, remember, a little goes a LONG way.

One of our local Chinese restaurants is little more than a lunch counter where you have to line up. Behind the counter are the stoves. You can actually watch the cooks scoop huge ladels full of MSG into the food.

Needless to say, this restaurant has some of the best-tasting (albeit greasiest) Chinese food in town.

Head to your local Japantown. Locate a Japanese or Asian food specialty store and look for a bottle labeled Aji No Moto. This will be the pure MSG you are looking for. Here is a link for information about it.

Do not look for a noticible flavor change as you add it to a sauce. Instead, check for when the liquid gains a silky aspect to it. Mono Sodium Glutamate is responsible for a taste sensation known as Umami, which is associated with the rich roundness of flavor or “mouth feel” of meats and fats.

Similar effects can be obtained by the reduction of a hearty broth. The use of marrow bones is another way to obtain this richness. Good cooking usually does not rely upon MSG although some recipes may require it.

Local Krogers has it, I believe it is on the ethnic foods aisle though I’m not quite sure - I just know I’ve seen it.

Some dim-sum places have it available at your table, along with the soy, mustard, etc.

“long since discredited as the source of cancer and other various nasty ailments”

MSG is the sodium salt of the amino acid Glutamic acid (aka glutamate). You can also get glutamate as a disodium salt. Glutamic acid is one of the twenty or so amino acids from which proteins are made. As it is one of the more common protein building blocks, you would be hard pressed to find ANY protein containing food that doesn’t contain glutamate.