Back many moons ago I used MSG all the time. When a lot of controversy cropped up I gradually went away from using it as I was concerned about the high sodium content it was purported to have.

Now, after doing more reading, I found that MSG has only approximately 1/3 of the sodium content found in table salt. So, my trusty Accent is back in my spice cabinet.

My question is how does it enhance the flavor of foods?

2 Answers 2


As you are no doubt aware, there are 5 basic tastes - salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami. Umami is the savoury flavour of mushrooms, cheese, cured meats, and so on. MSG is essentially 'pure' umami. In other words, MSG is to umami what salt is to salty and sugar is to sweet. So if you add it to savoury dishes (throw a parmesan rind in to vegetable soup while it's simmering) it enhances their savouriness.

  • Makes sense. :) In another comment about aged cheese you mentioned naturally occurring MSG. Does it naturally occur in all savory foods?
    – Cindy
    Commented Sep 11, 2014 at 10:56
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    MSG is synthetic, but glutamate occurs naturally in nearly all foods, especially high protein foods: dairy, meat, and some vegetables. Even human breast milk contains it. Cheese is especially high. You know how parmesan has an almost crystalline appearance when grated? Those are crystals of purest glutamate :) Commented Sep 11, 2014 at 11:05
  • Wow! I didn't realize that. I always use the Parmesan rinds in soups and stocks as it adds so much flavor. I just never understood about the glutamate. Thanks!
    – Cindy
    Commented Sep 11, 2014 at 12:07
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    @CindyAskew FYI, dried wild mushrooms are another great source of umami if you want to stay away from manufactured MSG. It helps if you're making something where the flavor of mushrooms would be welcome but a small amount of ground-up dried shiitakes, for example, will lend umami without being noticeably mushroomy. Dried mushrooms are a great addition to veggie stock.
    – Dan C
    Commented Sep 11, 2014 at 14:59
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    You will find large amounts of unami flavoring (glutamate) in certain other foods like nori (seaweed), anchovies, soy sauce etc. Likewise the previously mentioned Parmesan cheese and mushrooms. Contrary to many previous opinions I have read that the myth of MSG allergies is pretty much false and highly over claimed. Tests show that those showing symptoms were usually consuming significant quantities which went hand in hand with essentially overdosing on salt intake and hence causing other bodily reactions.
    – user25333
    Commented Sep 14, 2014 at 6:10

No umami is not a taste, umami means flavor. I've read a couple of sites from non-Japanese that had this misconception.

Most commonly the flavor extract of glutamates + sodium from kelp but it doesn't have to be. It can be practically any food stock but people started misappropriating it to MSG specifically and a "glutamate taste" category.

When used in its original form in Japanese, you can use it to describe any tasty stock's "richness" as umami.

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