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.
According to my mother, my grandmother would secretly use a bit in her cooking but my grandfather didn’t like it. Thus, she stopped.
We only talk about MSG if we feel “extra thirsty” after eating out at a Chinese restaurants thus if many of us end up drinking lots of water after eating at a Chinese restaurants, then all family members would strike that restaurant off the list because it “uses MSG”!
Since Monosodium glutamate (MSG)is a foreign word in my vocabulary, you can imagine my shock when I saw the hawker cooking a delicious beef noodle soup put a heaped Chinese soup spoonful of it into this bowl:
It nearly knocked my socks off!
The next time I ordered it, I told him to omit the Monosodium glutamate (MSG) and he stared at me as if I was an alien from outer space Sadly, the beef noodle soup didn’t taste quite as good, which meant that he relied on the MSG to bring out the flavour of the beef soup. Strike, you’re out!
Shopping at the supermarket one day, I happened to arrive at the seasonings corner and found half an aisle dedicated to MSG:
(Pardon the blur pic but it was a quick snap!)
Check out the bags and packs of MSG…
I also learned that chicken stock cubes 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, 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
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?
- Eating out in China
- Delicious Chinese take-out food (dàizǒu 带走)
- Noodles are miàn (面)
- Planning the weekly menu
- Chinese love a hot pot (huǒguō 火锅) or a steamboat lunch