MSG — monosodium glutamate — is bad, right? You’ve cleared out all the instant ramen, canned soup, cheap soy sauce, bottled salad dressing and Chinese sauce packets in the pantry and vowed to shun that evil salty stuff forever. Here’s the thing, though: You can’t, because MSG is a naturally occurring substance. That tomato you just picked off the plant in the organic garden you planted to bolster your clean living habits? Yeah, there’s MSG in that.
Here’s how MSG works: It can either be created chemically as a by-product of sugar fermentation for commercial use, or form naturally in a food that contains free glutamate (a compound found in protein) and sodium (salt). The result is foods that taste rich in umami, like Parmesan cheese, mushrooms, beef and, yes, tomatoes.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, glutamate was discovered by a Japanese scientist who isolated the compound as the source of the “savory” taste of seaweed broth. He began reproducing it chemically as MSG, the seasoning that would become widespread throughout Asia. The MSG in naturally umami-rich foods is found in harmless amounts, but the concentrated doses associated with foods like ramen, processed products like Hamburger Helper and salty fast-food products have been linked with negative health effects. That’s the stuff you want to avoid.
So praise the MSG in your hothouse beauties — it contributes immensely to their deliciousness.