MSG: An Ingredient in Unlikely Places

  • 3 min read


MSG, monosodium glutamate. Most of us are probably aware of it and have some associations tied to it. 

Although it has become synonymous with Western-style Chinese food, and the largely debunked Chinese restaurant syndrome, MSG was actually invented in Japan in the early 20th century. It was created as an extract fromkombu seaweed when scientist Kikuane Ikeda wondered what made Japanesekombu dashi broth so savory.

Chemically identical to the glutamate in otherumami rich foods like Parmesan cheese, tomatoes, and mushrooms, MSG is a food additive meant to boost theumami of a dish.

In Japan, MSG is known asaji-no-moto, roughly translated as "origin of flavor" or "essence of flavor", and is sold under a brand of the same name. The additive is regularly used as both a standalone ingredient and an ingredient in a variety of other products. 

As such, for those of us who prefer to avoid food additives wherever possible (and note that all our products at Kokoro Care Package are chemical and MSG-free), here are a few common products that may contain hidden MSG we should keep an eye out for.



Dashi Powder

In Japan it is quite standard to find prepackaged containers and packets ofdashipowder sold at grocery stores. While the prepareddashi powders make cooking more convenient, they are usually high in sodium and contain other additives, among which are MSG.

It is easy to opt for making your owndashistock but avoiding the MSG indashi powder can be difficult. Other prepackaged snacks and foods likesenbei rice crackers,onigiririce balls, and other precooked ingredients usually include flavoring fromdashi powders.

If you're looking for MSG-free dashi powder, you can try the one available in our Dashi: "Umami" Care Package.



Miso and Shōyu

Misoand shōyu(soy sauce) are two of the mostumamirich ingredients in Japanese cuisine. Even still, it isn’t uncommon to find MSG in some commercial brands. One reason for this is the time it takes for these products to ferment. By speeding up the fermentation process with chemicals and other methods, they can imitate the same end result by making up for any lack of flavor by adding MSG and other flavorings.



Japanese Mayo

Many believe that Japanese mayo is far superior to the store-bought mayos we have in the West. If you take a look at the ingredient list, you might find out why: MSG. That small addition gives it an extra depth of savoryumami you just don’t get from other types of mayo.



Instant Noodles and Soups

One more obvious, and maybe not so hidden, type of product that usually contains MSG are instant noodles and soups. Along with the long list of other additives, MSG is a quick way to addumami to the convenient prepackaged meals.



Seasoned Seaweed

Both the small sheets, usually made for snacking and eating along with rice, and the larger sheets made for sushi, are often pre-seasoned when they are pressed. These seasonings can include salt, sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, and often MSG.

While there may be nothing wrong with adding a little MSG here and there, wanting to avoid any unnecessary additives is legitimate and understandable. Just keep an eye on those ingredients lists, avoid processed foods whenever possible, and find natural ways of getting that sameumami flavor like the products available at Kokoro Care Package.




About the author: The spark that lit Kevin Kilcoyne’s interest in Japanese culture began in elementary school through a friendship with his then classmate Keisuke. Since then, that passion has evolved and bloomed to encompass more than just video games and manga, leading Kevin to live in Japan as a participant of the JET program. During his time in Japan, Kevin sought out as many foods as he could, the experiences and taste memories lingering long after they had gone. Now he is forging a path to link his passions for Japanese food, history, and visual culture and is planning for his return to live in Japan once again. For now, you can find Kevin on Instagram (@waruishouten) where he posts his photography and illustration work. Keep an eye out for more posts and updates as Kevin delves more deeply into his passions for writing and food!

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