No. No MSG <;)

Ezra Santos - Managing Director


I was driving down a major highway in the Philippines, when I saw a 50’ condiment shaker (not a picture, not a billboard, but an actual 50 foot tall replica shaker) with the words “100% pure MSG” proudly emblazoned on it.

My jaw dropped.

Just visit China, Japan, Thailand or any other host of countries in the area and you’ll get the distinct impression that most Asians (in Asia) have no fear of MSG. MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is ubiquitous in Asia (I promised myself that I’d find a way to use the word “ubiquitous” in an article). It’s ubiquitous (there, I’ve done it again), and I knew that – but my jaw still dropped.

We’ll come back to the giant shaker later, but first let’s learn more about MSG, a white crystal, soluble in water, easy to store, and first marketed as a table condiment called Aji-no-moto or ‘essence of taste.’

Glutamate is present in almost every foodstuff. When you shred parmesan onto your spaghetti or your pizza, you’re adding glutamate to enhance it’s taste. Would you like sautéed mushrooms on your steak? Yup. Glutamates. How about some vine ripened tomatoes in your chili? You guessed it. Glutamates.

MSGAs a flavour, glutamate has been extracted for centuries by boiling types of seaweed, drying shrimp, fermenting soy, or even making cheese. But who makes anything made naturally from scratch today? It’s such a bother. Can’t we get the stuff from a can? That must be healthier right?

Thanks to Dr. Ikeda and a publication over 100 years ago in the Journal of Chemical Society of Tokyo of the molecular formula C5H0NO4, you can get a similar flavouring today from a handy dandy salt shaker, where it’s stabilized with ordinary salt, hence: monosodium glutamate (MSG).

Personally, I don’t add MSG (or salt) to any of my food. I don’t cook with salt, I don’t accent with MSG (“accent,” wow, that’s marketing genius someone should trademark it for MSG – oops, too late). All you have to do is read the label on the prepackaged food in your kitchen and you’ll know why I don’t add salt or MSG to anything. Having said that, MSG has a pretty bad rap.

Now, too much MSG is a bad thing, just like too much salt can not only make a dish unpalatable (read: inedible) but raise your blood pressure to boot. Just try adding loads of salt to your soup and see what happens then (headaches and dizziness anyone?).

Now that you’ve had your fill of MSG history (sorry had to do it). Let’s go back to the giant boasting MSG shaker.

Culture and environment affects our perceptions, values and behaviour. In a very obvious sense, how we market in Asia will, out of necessity, be different than how we market in Canada or the U.S. For example, Many ‘reputable’ Asian restaurants in North America boast of cooking free of this additive, while any serious restaurant in Asia would never think of leaving this out.

Hence, while 100% pure MSG might be a basic, and obvious feature/benefit in Asia, here at home you’re more likely to see “No MSG added.”

And if someone is brave enough to market 100% MSG as a positive for a North American food product I’d want to see the case study. I’d eat it up (sorry, had to do it again).

For now, reduce your MSG and salt consumption, eat healthily, market intelligently, and advertise with heart. And next time we’ll talk Sea Salt (whoever thought of this was a marketing genius).