The recipes on this site are all Food With No Msg . Many people avoid MSG-containing foods due to adverse reactions they have experienced. Some of the complaints are headaches, nausea and vomiting, weakness and irritability, depression, skin problems and aggravation of asthma. The ingredients listed here should be used as a guide only and you should always check the labels carefully before buying foods containing MSG or hidden ingredients.
Food With No Msg
Finding MSG-free foods might be a challenge, as it’s uncommon to find prepackaged or frozen foods without this flavor enhancer. MSG is also present in many seasonings and sauces. Carefully reading labels and opting for fresh and minimally processed foods will put you on the right track.
Finding an unbiased presentation on MSG (or monosodium glutamate) might take some work. This well-known flavor enhancer has been used for decades and can be found in a wide variety of foods. It has earned a reputation for giving many foods a satisfying taste. However, this additive has also gained many detractors due to anecdotal reports of negative reactions after consuming it.
So, what exactly is MSG? The Marion Institute notes that MSG is the sodium salt derived from glutamic acid, a well-known amino acid. Although MSG has evolved from a naturally occurring substance, it morphs into a man-made food additive during the processing cycle.
As you’re probably aware, food ingredient labels use varied names for substances that contain MSG. Examples include glutamic acid, monosodium glutamate, calcium caseinate, autolyzed yeast, textured protein, natural flavor and others. Because additives are often present in small amounts, these substances will likely appear toward the end of the list.
Foods That Contain MSG
MSG is a chameleon-like food additive that doesn’t have its own distinctive flavor, states Dietitians of Canada. Instead, it enhances the taste of many other foods.
Numerous prepackaged foods have MSG on their ingredient labels. If you consume a meat or poultry entree, a casserole or vegetable side dish or even a snack, MSG is probably part of the food’s chemical makeup.
Prepared entrees and side dishes, frozen foods, canned and cured meats and smoked sausages contain this flavor enhancer. If you enjoy prepackaged snacks or like to nosh on crackers and cookies, know that MSG is likely the reason the food tastes good. Not surprisingly, this ingredient is also part of many flavorings and seasoning blends.
The Marion Institute adds that MSG is also found in many infant formulas and baby foods. It’s also a staple of restaurant fare, as it heightens the appeal of numerous foods. Specifically, MSG has long been prominent in Chinese and other Asian restaurant dishes.
Dietitians of Canada mentions that glutamate (the naturally occurring substance from which MSG is derived) is found in green peas, mushrooms, tomatoes and corn. Grapes, grape juice and some cheese varieties contain either glutamate or MSG.
So, how can you tell if a specific food contains MSG? If you’re considering a prepackaged food, “monosodium glutamate” must appear on the ingredient label if MSG is present.
If a spice or other food ingredient contains MSG, this compound must still appear on the label. As a caution, note that imported products’ ingredient lists don’t always feature accurate translations, so the information might be difficult to interpret.
Finding MSG-Free Foods
Locating MSG-free foods takes some planning, but it’s certainly possible, states the University of California Health System. For starters, add more fresh vegetables and fruits to your MSG-free diet plan.
Also, opt for frozen produce without sauces or additives. Low-sodium salad dressings may be an option, but check the ingredient labels first.
Next, add flavor and texture to entrees and vegetable dishes by using fresh or dried herbs, onion or garlic. Salt-free seasonings, which typically combine an appealing mix of spices, can also bring zesty new dimensions to your meals. Consider adding onion powder and garlic powder to your MSG-free diet plan.
If you’re dining out, ask the restaurant to provide a sauce-free version of a specific dish. Or, request that the sauce be served on the side and use it sparingly. With a little flexibility, you should be able to successfully adopt an MSG-free diet plan.
Historically, Chinese and other Asian restaurants have gained a reputation for using MSG in many dishes. To avoid this flavor enhancer, simply ask the kitchen to refrain from adding it to your meal.
Effects of MSG Consumption
The United States Food and Drug Administration has documented numerous reports of people experiencing troublesome symptoms following MSG consumption, states the Mayo Clinic. Although the reports have all been anecdotal, they mention the same group of symptoms.
Collectively, the reactions have been termed “MSG symptom complex.” The reported symptoms include headaches, sweating, flushing, nausea and weakness.
Consumers may also experience tingling, numbness or burning in various parts of their bodies. A feeling of facial tightness is also common, as are heart palpitations and chest pain. The Cleveland Clinic stresses that consuming MSG may also cause your blood pressure to rise, which can be a concern if your readings are already above normal levels.
The Mayo Clinic notes that upon detailed investigation, researchers haven’t found conclusive evidence that MSG is linked to these symptoms. However, researchers do admit that a small subset of consumers may have experienced temporary MSG reactions.
Generally speaking, the symptoms are mild, and no treatment is necessary. Avoiding MSG-containing foods is the only sure way to prevent an adverse reaction.
MSG Intolerance vs. MSG Allergy
Maybe you have noticed uncomfortable symptoms after eating MSG-containing foods. So, do you have a food intolerance or an MSG allergy? Dr. Carla Davis, an associate professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine, offers a useful explanation of the difference between the two conditions.
If you have a food intolerance and you consume that food, you’ll experience a specific set of symptoms that don’t involve your immune system. For example, let’s say you have lactose intolerance. If you consume milk, you might notice symptoms like bloating and diarrhea.
If you’re sensitive to caffeine and you consume a food that contains this substance, you might feel jittery and notice an increased heart rate. Based on the above definition, you’re probably not experiencing an MSG allergy.
In contrast, a food allergy will trigger an immune system reaction to a specific food. Some food allergy reactions are relatively mild. Symptoms could include itchy skin or the worsening of an existing skin condition.
In severe cases, you could experience a life-threatening allergic reaction. Let’s say you break out with hives or your skin appears to be swollen. Maybe your tongue, lips and throat begin to swell. You may begin to wheeze or cough and have breathing difficulties. Your blood pressure may drop, and you could feel severe abdominal cramps and begin to vomit.
If you experience one (or more) of these symptoms, this is a true medical emergency. You are likely having a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction, and you need immediate medical attention. In extreme cases, food allergic reactions can be fatal.
Can MSG Harm Your Health?
The medical literature includes a number of anecdotal reports from consumers who experienced undesirable symptoms after consuming foods containing MSG. In May 2019, the Global Journal of Nutrition & Food Science published an in-depth review that explored this issue further.
Specifically, researchers took a comprehensive look at whether MSG in seasonings had a negative effect on human health. After viewing available findings, they concluded that it does have harmful effects on several body systems.
First, scientists determined that MSG may cause oxidative stress in the body. Chemical-caused kidney and liver damage is also possible. MSG consumption may also result in increased cholesterol and total protein blood levels.
Continuing the focus on your circulatory system, MSG use may raise your platelet count, bleeding duration and clotting duration. Sex-related hormones, such as estrogen, testosterone and progesterone, may also experience disruptions. Finally, consuming MSG may result in weight gain and obesity.
These negative effects can potentially be tempered by consuming ginger, garlic and turmeric. Eating foods that contain large concentrations of vitamins C and E along with other antioxidants may also minimize undesirable health outcomes.
What You Should Know About MSG
Territory’s Senior Manager of Nutrition, Danielle McAvoy explains how a harmless, natural, and absolutely delicious ingredient became one of the most misunderstood and maligned ingredients.
For decades food products and restaurants have slapped NO MSG labels on their packaging and menus. No one wanted to be associated with the food additive that was blamed as the source of headaches, dizziness, numbness, and heart palpitations, symptoms grouped together under the unfortunate name, “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.”
The problem, aside from the blatant racism, is that none of it is true. MSG is as natural and harmless as salt, a fact that has been affirmed by a 2019 research review and verified as safe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA).
Recently, a movement has taken hold to restore MSG’s reputation. In January of this year, Whole30 joined in and declared that they’re taking MSG off their list of Off-Limits Additives. And businesses like Omsom, which sells pre-packaged blends of Southeast Asian spices and sauces, are fighting back by proudly embracing the MSG content of their products.
MSG’s problems began back in the 1960s when The New England Journal of Medicine published a letter under the heading Chinese Restaurant Syndrome. The writer complained of feeling ill after eating Chinese food. He suggested that maybe it was the salt or the cooking wine that made him feel ill, or perhaps the monosodium glutamate used in the food, and urged the medical community to conduct more research. The letter was signed by Robert Ho Man Kwok, MD, Senior Research Investigator, National Biomedical Research Foundation. Despite the fact that the name was fake and the National Biomedical Research Foundation never existed, the idea that MSG could make you sick took hold without a single research study to back it up.
“MSG is everywhere. It’s not some sinister Chinese plot to make Americans feel ill. MSG is plant-derived, made with fermentation, and 100% safe.”
The letter turned out to be a hoax, a bet between two friends that was never meant to be taken seriously. Still, it spawned a decades-long misunderstanding of a harmless flavor enhancer. As Whole30 Co-Founder and CEO, Melissa Urban says, “…negative associations around MSG are rooted in racism and questionable research that dates back to the 1960s. And in fact, decades of research have not found a strong connection between MSG and the symptoms that people associate with consuming it.”
Often called “umami powder,” monosodium glutamate (MSG) is derived from the amino acid glutamate. It’s a lot like table salt (sodium + chloride), MSG is sodium + glutamate, but adds more of a savory flavor to foods. It may actually be better for you than salt. (MSG has a third as much sodium and can be a good alternative for those looking to cut back on sodium.)
The truth is that glutamate is pretty hard to avoid. It’s an amino acid that the body can produce, and it occurs naturally in many fresh foods. Most of us eat around 13 grams of it daily, a lot of it naturally occurring and some from the MSG added to foods. No matter the source, our bodies metabolize glutamate the same way. It’s found in almost all foods, and particularly in high-protein ones, like meat, poultry, fish, and eggs. Many vegetables, like tomatoes, mushrooms, peas, and corn contain glutamate, as do fermented foods like miso, kimchi, soy sauce. It’s in green tea, and even human breast milk.
As stated in a post on the Omsom website titled, The Roots of Anti-MSG Xenophobia, “MSG is everywhere. It’s not some sinister Chinese plot to make Americans feel ill. MSG is plant-derived, made with fermentation, and 100% safe.”
In the decades since the first studies on MSG, researchers have never been able to reproduce the results. Extensive research has shown that MSG doesn’t cause any adverse effects, even in people who claimed to have an MSG sensitivity. Studies have never found a correlation between eating foods high in MSG and headaches, and ingested glutamate doesn’t cross the blood-brain barrier, so it can’t affect the nervous system.
As with all foods, sensitivity is always possible, but the rate of MSG sensitivity is less than 1% of the population. There’s no reason for the other 99% of us to avoid it.
What is MSG?
“MSG” is short for monosodium glutamate, a common additive food producers put in all sorts of nosh. In the right amounts, it makes stuff taste better.
The supersimple explanation for how this works is that MSG reacts with savory taste-active compounds in food. How does it do this? Chemistry, that’s how.
What foods contain MSG?
A lot of them, actually.
Some common foodstuffs that get the MSG treatment:
- fast food, particularly Chinese takeout
- chips and snack foods
- seasoning blends
- frozen meals
- processed meats
- instant noodles
Fun fact: it’s not just processed foods, either.
That’s right, folks: MSG occurs naturally. Get ready to sh*t your collective pants (as a side effect of astonishing info, not MSG).
The common myth is that MSG is a synthetic chemical that Big Flavor™ laces into our food to get us hooked on Big Macs and Twinkies. That’s why anti-MSG fundamentalists get so pissy about it.
This is all kinds of nonsense. Plenty of foods naturally contain MSG, including seaweed, tomatoes, corn, squid, scallops, and various cheeses. However, the Big Flavor™ paranoia does have some foundation in truth. We do put a lot of MSG into our processed foods. Why? Because it makes them tasty, that’s why.
Much Science Gathered: What does the research say about MSG?
MSG research is inconclusive, but most scientists agree that the amounts of MSG we ingest through food are safe.
A 2010 review of MSG use in food concluded that there’s no evidence glutamate causes asthma, migraine, or other symptoms often associated with it. There’s also no conclusive evidence that people can have a specific sensitivity to MSG.
Does MSG cause headaches?
The MSG-headache link dates back to 1969. A scientist named J.W. Olney conducted research on newborn mice that suggested MSG consumption was possibly linked to neurological disorders.
This research spiraled into a whole thing. To summarize, a scientist in the ’60s forgot that baby mice aren’t human people but pumped them full of MSG to see what would happen anyway.
A small 2010 study suggested that large MSG doses can raise blood glutamate levels significantly. But don’t go throwing out all your ramen, because the pro-MSG scientists have played a reverse card: Due to what we know about the blood-brain barrier, it’s a pretty safe bet that large amounts of MSG can’t get to the brain through the bloodstream.
A 2016 review of six MSG food studies concluded that when it came to dietary MSG, none of the studies suggested that it made a significant difference in how often people got headaches.
Other studies in the review used high-as-heck concentrations of more than 2 percent MSG. These were linked to an increased rate of headaches. However, the review’s authors concluded that further research was needed and findings were inconsistent.
TL;DR: MSG might cause headaches, but we need to do way more research, because it might also not cause headaches at all.
Does MSG cause weight gain or obesity?
J.W. Olney isn’t the only scientist who liked putting MSG in mice. Two separate groups of scientists spent 2014 injecting MSG into the brains of mice to see what would happen. Among other things, like type 2 diabetes and liver problems, the MSG led to obesity in the mice.
As we’ve pointed out, mice aren’t people (seriously, MSG scientists, just leave mice alone), so the fact that MSG seems to make mice fat doesn’t mean much for us humans.
Do you know what does? Studies that link MSG to obesity in humans. There have been a few, but like most MSG studies, they’re steeped in poor methodology, disputed results, and further studies contradicting their findings.
Chinese studies in 2008 and 2011 linked daily MSG consumption of 0.33 to 2.2 grams per day to increased weight gain. But in 2012, Vietnamese scientists said “LOL bro” and found that a daily 2.2-gram MSG habit had no link to being overweight. So either Vietnamese people have an uber-high tolerance for MSG (unlikely) or more research is needed.
A big reason for this false belief that MSG is linked to weight gain is the foods that contain it. As a flavor additive, MSG is used in lots of fast foods, snacks, frozen meals, and other post-breakup comfort noms.
Consuming lots of processed foods like these can increase the risk of obesity. Many of these foods contain large amounts of calories, fat, and sugar, which can lead to weight gain if consumed in excess.
Does MSG have health benefits?
While MSG clearly isn’t the dietary demon many believe it to be, it’s not exactly a superfood. But it may have some benefits.
MSG touches a very specific flavor base: umami.
Some folks refer to umami as “the fifth taste” that hits the savory parts of your taste buds. A bit of umami can be a good substitute for sodium and fat in foods, so it might make it easier to eat healthfully without sacrificing flavor.
Tasty Stuff Experts confirmed that umami is a bona fide basic taste only relatively recently (as compared with sour, sweet, bitter, and salty, which are old news).
It has a range of possible benefits, especially for older adults who may be eating less. It may help improve appetite and oral health in older people who salivate less as a result of illness or medication side effects.
TL;DR: Research suggests older adults who retain umami taste buds eat more on average, which can mean their bodies are better equipped to handle old age. However, as the research itself admits, it’s still early days for the science of umami benefits.
What does the FDA say?
The FDA has made its stance on MSG pretty darn clear: MSG is generally recognized as safe (GRAS). And even in studies on peeps who self-identify as “MSG-sensitive,” subjects who received MSG or a placebo didn’t experience consistent reactions.
So yeah. Big Daddy Food Government is all for U.S. citizens getting their umami on.
Mostly Salacious Gossip: Why MSG is so dang controversial
MSG gets a bad rap. There are many reasons MSG is so controversial, and they all start with J.W. frickin’ Olney.
Olney’s 1969 research on mice kick-started MSG paranoia. He claimed MSG was a one-way ticket to brain lesions and obesity — or at least that was the message the media chose to run with at the time.
That’s part of the reason we’re a little sour about Olney. His crusade against MSG evolved into a nationwide fear of Chinese restaurant food, leading to increased racial discrimination against Asian Americans.
He’s also pretty suspect — a bit of an Alex Jones in the 1960s and ’70s dietary research scene. One critic went on record describing Olney to the FDA as “misusing scientific design of toxicological experiments to cause millions of mothers to worry about brain damage to their children from MSG.” That’s pretty darn damning, dang it.
Since then, scientists have done a metric f*ckton of research that debunks Olney’s findings. But unfortunately, once the MSG fear became entrenched, it proved tough to reverse. Books like Russell Blaylock’s Exotoxins: The Taste That Kills, which peddle medically discredited information (read: lies) to try to turn a profit, haven’t helped.
Some people may have an allergy or sensitivity to MSG. But the research suggesting it’s harmful to everybody has been repeatedly contradicted and debunked. So, no, you’re not going to have a stroke from eating too much ramen.
Many Synonyms Generated: How is MSG written on food labels?
Food manufacturers legally have to declare MSG as an ingredient. But it’s not always listed on packaging as straight-up MSG or monosodium glutamate. If you’re sensitive to MSG, avoid foods with the following on the label:
- E621 (flavor enhancer)
- glutamic acid
- yeast extract (or autolyzed yeast, yeast food, yeast nutrient… it’s in yeast, OK?)
- hydrolyzed protein
- food ingredients listed as protein-fortified, ultra-pasteurized, fermented, or enzyme-modified (these usually contain MSG)
- soy protein isolate or concentrate
- whey protein (concentrate, isolate, or classic)
- autolyzed plant protein
- hydrolyzed oat flour
- textured protein
- natural flavors (think packaged foods with terms like “natural beef flavor” or “pure chicken flavor extract” on them)
Maximum Snack Game: How to use MSG in cooking
For MSG to be controversial, it first had to be popular. It was and still is — with good reason too: It makes stuff taste delicious. All praise the almighty umami.
Using MSG at home is easy. There are whole websites dedicated to taking your cooking from monosodium gluta-hate to monosodium gluta-great. You can cook with naturally MSG-rich foods, but if you want to get that pure sh*t, your local grocery store may stock brand name products like Ajinomoto or Ac’cent in the Asian foods section.
MSG has been an ingredient in Asian cooking for years. This is why J.W. Olney and the hype-machine media peddled BS about Chinese restaurants. A Japanese food OG named Professor Ikeda discovered powdered MSG seasoning in 1908, and Ajinomoto MSG seasoning hit Japanese shelves a year later.
In case you’re wondering, Ikeda extracted it from crystallizing seaweed broth (as we said, it’s legit natural). It was introduced to the United States in the 1930s and ’40s by Japanese and Chinese immigrants. Because it was seen as an Asian foodstuff, anti-Asian bigotry in the U.S. has always leaned into MSG myths and falsehoods.
MSG is sold as a white powder. Feel free sprinkle that baby onto your food and taste the umami magic.
Some recipes you can make MS-Great with a little umami
Plenty of dishes may benefit from a sprinkle of MSG. Umami is a savory flavor, so it may not work in desserts, but you can use MSG to bring out the inner umami in almost any savory dish.
Don’t forget to give Asian cuisine its roses
If you type “MSG recipe for *insert your favorite dish*” into Google, you’ll get pages of results. Whether it’s a burger or brisket, someone, somewhere has likely umami-fied it with MSG. (There’s literally a burger chain called Umami Burger, FFS.)
Keep in mind, though, that American cuisine has culturally appropriated the heck out of MSG. This is a bit sh*tty when you consider that MSG was used as one of many excuses to make the lives of Asians in America miserable.
Whether you’re sprinkling MSG into your mother’s famous beet stew or whipping up your own umami-licious egg fried rice, always remember that your taste buds wouldn’t be enjoying the wonder of MSG without the contributions of Asian culture and Asians in the United States.
Mandatory Summary, Guys
So, what do we know about MSG now that we’ve gone on our umami journey together?
Because of J.W.
Flavor Killer Olney, a lot of bullsh*t about MSG has been flying around since the late 1960s. There’s a false belief that MSG can cause anything from headaches to stroke, depending on who you ask. Some people may be sensitive to MSG, but research has concluded that the amounts we get from food aren’t enough to cause harm.
Professor Ikeda, the God of Flavor Town, invented MSG seasoning in 1908 by crystallizing seaweed broth. It became a staple of Asian cooking over the next 5 to 10 years.
A lot of the MSG paranoia is tied into anti-Asian sentiment, which is why some people became suspicious that Chinese restaurant food could cause certain symptoms. But the existence of any health condition connected to Chinese food has been thoroughly debunked.
MSG is naturally occurring but is often used in processed foods, which has led to another misconception that it’s a lab-produced, unnatural chemical. MSG stimulates umami, and having a keen sense of umami taste is possibly linked to a number of dietary health benefits, especially in older adults.
You can add MSG to pretty much any savory dish to give it that umami flavor boost. But always remember that you wouldn’t be enjoying its tasty goodness without the contributions of Asian culture and the Asian immigrants who popularized it in the West.