MSG is everywhere!

Scott and I once went to our favourite Sichuan restaurant Ba Guo Bu Yi 巴国布衣 as part of a series of kid-friendly restaurant reviews. As part of the review, we asked for the restaurant to make our food without MSG, which is often used as a substitute for salt in China.

As the meal went on, we lamented that the restaurant had lost its luster. The food was curiously lacking in flavour and intensity. The food wasn’t even spicy the way we liked it.

At the end, a lightbulb bashed into us and we remembered–we had asked for the food to be made without MSG.

It’s not only the Chinese who love MSG. The New York Times recently wrote an article about MSG’s ubiquity and popularity in food around the world. Favored by cooks and producers of processed foods, MSG is the international flavouring of mystery!


It is the taste of Marmite in the United Kingdom, of Golden Mountain sauce in Thailand, of Goya Sazón on the Latin islands of the Caribbean, of Salsa Lizano in Costa Rica and of Kewpie mayonnaise in Japan.

MSG is linked to umami, the hard-to-describe fifth taste that might be translated as pungency or savouriness of a flavour. It is the feeling that food is as flavourful as it can be. MSG provides an easy way to achieve umami in a meal–as my friend put it once, “the secret weapon of crappy chefs everywhere.”

Although I’m aware of the supposed health risks of MSG, one of my favourite tastes is the umami burn reached from getting to the bottom of a bowl of Hong Kong wonton noodle soup. There’s usually an intense mixture of salt, MSG, and broth (flavoured by scallions, noodles and the wontons) that tastes like the essense of what a wonton noodle soup should be. It’s one of the greatest pleasures of having that particular Hong Kong classic.

Long live umami and MSG!

ps, On a subsequent visit to Ba Guo Bu Yi–with MSG as usual–the food was as intense and full of umami as we remembered it.

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One Comment on "MSG is everywhere!"

  1. nao
    07/03/2008 at 3:40 am Permalink

    sadly, msg is in lots of japanese foods, like miso, and as mentioned above, kewpie mayonaise! i love that stuff!

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