What is MSG?

MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is a food additive that is used as a flavor enhancer primarily in Asian cooking although it is commonly found in many processed foods. MSG comes from glutamic acid that is naturally found in mushrooms, fermented soy products such as soy sauce and parmesan cheese. Glutamic acid is part of a large category of glutamates which ultimately make up the fifth taste category of umami.

Umami has been described as anything “meaty,” “savory,” or “earthy” flavor. Glutamates like MSG are umami just as lemon is sour or a gourmet cheese is savory. Umami enhances other flavors through adding more fullness and depth to them, which is why MSG is used as a flavoring agent. It adds an umami flavor as well as enhancing other flavors like sour and salty.

MSG was first invented when the glutamic acid from the seaweed that was used to make the traditional Japanese broth called kombu dashi. Now you can find pure MSG being sold in Asian markets. It is often used as a seasoning. Latin American and Caribbean cuisines incorporate MSG in the form of dry spice rubs. Also, accent flavor enhancer, used in many U.S. foods, is almost entirely MSG.

Ingredients that Contain MSG

The table below shows different names of ingredients which contain MSG.

Ingredients that ALWAYS have MSG

Ingredients that OFTEN have MSG

Ingredients SUSPECTED of having MSG(These most likely will only affect those with an MSG allergy

Ingredients that work synergistically with MSG (If these are used for flavoring, so is MSG)

glutamic acid


corn starch

disodium 5’-guanylate


bouillon and broth

corn syrup

disodium 5’-ribonucleotides

monosodium glutamate


modified food starch

disodium 5’-inosinate

monopotassium glutamate

“flavors” and “flavorings”

lipolyzed butter fat


calcium glutamate




monoammonium glutamate

citric acid, citrate

rice syrup


magnesium glutamate

anything “ultra-pasteurized”

brown rice syrup


natrium glutamate

barley malt

milk powder


hydrolyzed products and hydrolyzed proteins


reduced or non-fat milk


calcium caseinate, sodium caseinate

malt extract

most things that are “low-fat” or “non-fat”


yeast extract, torula yeast, yeast food, yeast nutrient, autolyzed yeast


anything “enriched,” “vitamin enriched,” or “pasteurized”






any proteins including textured, whey, whey concentrate, whey isolate, soy, soy concentrate, soy isolate and fortified proteins




soy sauce and soy sauce extract


balsamic vinegar




certain amino acid chelates including citrate, aspartate and glutamate


enzymes and modified enzymes


anything fermented








The FDA currently has a requirement that the protein source be included when listing any hydrolyzed protein products on packaged food labels. For example, something with the ingredient tomato protein in it means the tomato has been hydrolyzed in some way and contains MSG. It’s important to always check labels and know what you are exposing yourself to. There have been reported allergic reactions to MSG, in the form of amino acids, proteins and hydrolyzed ingredients, from soaps, shampoos and other bathroom items.

Foods that Commonly Contain MSG

You can find MSG in just about any of the foods featured on fast-food menus. Most commonly you will find it in the chicken items at these restaurants. Commercial food products or packed foods also have MSG for flavoring. It is commonly found foods such as crackers, chips, soups and soup mixes, dip mixes, instant noodles, seasoning salt, lunch meats, bouillon cubes, gravy mixes and pre-made gravies, salad dressings, hot dogs and vegetarian substitutes like meatless burgers. There are many more processed foods that possibly contain MSG as many of them contain any number of ingredients listed in the table above.

It’s important to remember not all packaged foods will clearly or explicitly say on the package whether or not it contains MSG. Autolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed protein and sodium caseinate are some alternative names used in place of MSG on food labels.

Side Effects from and Concerns for MSG

Many people find that consuming MSG, especially in larger quantities, can cause negative side effects that can include dizziness, headaches, nausea, flushing, irregular or rapid heartbeats, excessive sweating, intense thirst, skin rash, fatigue or lethargy, numbness, ringing in the ears, and tingling of mouth.

To avoid these effects, many try to consume less MSG in their diets. The question is, however, what comprises a large quantity of MSG in the first place? According to the FDA, anything more than a teaspoonful is too much MSG. One teaspoon is the recommended amount for seasoning one lb. of meat or five servings of fried rice. However, the measurements are so small that it can be easy for restaurant chefs and even those cooking at home to overdo it.

With the list of side effects piling up, it begs the question of whether or not MSG is safe for consumption. This depends highly upon what one considers safe. If safe to you means not experiencing any of these side effects ever, then MSG would not be a safe additive to your diet. Those suffering from asthma may also be at risk. Studies have found that people with asthma have difficulty breathing and shortness of breath after consuming foods with MSG. A study in 2008 linked MSG to obesity as well.

Whether or not MSG is safe overall for consumption is really up to each individual and how they plan their diet. It doesn’t hurt, however, to be educated about what is in your food and to know and understand the side effects and symptoms of a reaction. Pay attention to what’s written on the labels and pay attention to how you feel after you have eaten things containing MSG.