#40 Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is wei jing (味精)

MSG is a big thing in China. At Carrefour and Walmart, we found a seasonings corner and half an aisle dedicated to MSG:

Check out the bags and packs of MSG…

(Pardon the blur pic but it was a quick snap!)

Chicken stock cubes are called jī jing (鸡精) (e.g. Knorr) is located under another section:

A popular brand I see advertised on TV is 太太乐 (tài tai lè) or “Happy Wife”? You can see the green brand logo in the photo above.

Many soup recipes call for chicken stock in cubes or granules but my Mum would discourage me from using it because she says it’s loaded with MSG and salt.

Thus, nobody in my family cooks using Monosodium glutamate (MSG) in their cooking. My grandmothers, aunties and mother only use table salt, dark soy sauce, light soy sauce, sesame seed oil and oyster sauce.

We tend to avoid Chinese restaurants where we feel “extra thirsty” afterwards despite having soup feature as a main dish. The soup is the suspect.

I used to frequent this delicious beef noodle soup outlet until I saw him put a heaping Chinese soup spoonful of MSG into this bowl:

Knocked my socks off!

The next time I ordered it, I asked for MSG to be omitted – he stared at me as if I was an alien from outer space :D

Sadly, the beef noodle soup didn’t taste quite as good, which meant that he relied on MSG to bring out the flavour of the beef soup. Strike, you’re out!

Thus, I’ve always boiled fresh stock or overnight ones although I’ve found recipes you can freeze soup stock. Our current fridge doesn’t have enough space so that’s out of the question…

I find it fascinating at how ingrained the use of MSG is in Chinese culture that my current maid felt quite frustrated when she had to cook without either one!

My previous maid had no problems preparing MSG-free food because she’d worked for a foreign family before and she completely understood our “abnormal” cooking styles :D

I remember how horror-struck my current maid was when my previous maid showed her the condiments around our kitchen and told her there was NO MSG or chicken powder. She couldn’t believe her eyes LOL

The use of MSG as a seasoning or “flavour enhancer” is quite controversial because:

a) MSG was blamed the culprit for “headaches, dizzyness and chest pains” (called the “Chinese restaurant syndrome” ) (read here).

b) “Ajinomoto” or “Accent” (in US) is so popular and seems synonymous with Japanese soups (NOT true because good Japanese cooking does not use Ajinomoto. They use seaweed and bonito flakes).

c) This Wikipedia article states that not enough studies are available to prove a link between the consumption of MSG and chronic health problems e.g. cancer but many countries require the inclusion of MSG in their list of ingredients. Note that “natural flavour” can also mean MSG.

Me? I’ve never used MSG and I don’t think I’ll start. Less is more, right?

Kit