First things first. MSG is short for monosodium glutamate – the salt of glutamic acid, a nonessential amino acid. It is naturally found in food sources like tomatoes, cheese, breast milk, seaweed and soy. When extracted and fermented, it becomes the MSG food additive.
It is known to be an enhancer of umami, also referred to as the fifth taste. It is the unique meaty, savory flavor associated mostly with broths, soups, mushrooms, fish, etc. Umami flavor is not as easy to enhance as sweetness or saltiness, and MSG is one of the solutions (despite the controversy around it).
Glutamic acid itself does not have a flavor, but MSG in food activates certain receptors in the taste buds. The taste buds, in turn, transmit signals to the brain, causing the characteristic taste.
Many will associate the use of MSG with Chinese restaurants and Asian food in general, but it is certainly more widespread than that, according to nutrition experts.
What Foods Contain MSG?
1. Fried Chicken
One of the most prominent users of MSG is KFC. The fast-food chain is known for its ’11 herbs and spices’ recipe, which gives their fried chicken its distinctive taste. MSG is certainly one of them. It is found in their grilled chicken, gravy, and potato wedges as well. Of course, KFC is not the only fast-food chain to use MSG. There are plenty of others, big and small, especially those who specialize in meat.
While MSG is a seasoning in and of itself, it is also a part of many packaged seasonings sold in grocery stores. To be sure that your seasoning is free of MSG, you’ll need to check the packages individually for sodium glutamate.
Canned, powdered, or bouillon cubes – the secret ingredient that gives these instant store-bought soups their rich taste is no other than MSG. It is important to note that Campbell’s has actually pledget to remove MSG alongside other additives from its products by the end of 2018.
7. Salad Dressing
Similar to the hidden MSG case of pizza, many bottled salad dressings include spices and seasoning which contain MSG, hidden in the ingredient list on the bottled dressing.