Monosodium glutamate is surprisingly ubiquitous, lurking in everything from chips to fast food to instant Japanese dashi. “You eat processed food, you eat lots of MSG, period,” says dmd_kc. MSG is a quick way to add umami, the meaty, satisfying “fifth” flavor, to food, says johnb.

What does MSG taste like? Imagine the satisfying, complex flavor of homemade consommé or aged cheese. “When food lacks this complexity, but satisfies in a certain more unidimensional way, you can tell it has MSG,” says cimui. The flavor doesn’t have to be added in the form of a sprinkle-in powder, either: Cooks might use anchovies, soy, kombu, mushrooms, Parmesan cheese rind, and fish sauce to establish the umami in a more subtle and complex way. “I think that all cultures have favorite stock ingredients that are naturally rich in glutamates to enhance flavor—and that have additional flavors of their own,” says happycat. “MSG is a shortcut. It can be abused by cooks who use it as a substitute for real technique in the kitchen.”

Board Link: MSG or Not?

See more articles