MSG (Monosodium Glutamate) - What it is and How to Spot it in Japan

  • 2 min read

MSG is an abbreviation for monosodium glutamate and is an ingredient that is frowned upon in the United States but widely used in Japanese food. At Kokoro Care Packages we ensure thatour products are MSG-free, but here's a look at what MSG is and how to identify it on Japanese labels. 

MSG (Monosodium Glutamine) - What it is and How to Spot it in Japan


MSG is the combination of salt, water, and glutamate which is used to enhance the flavor of food. It was discovered in the early 20th century and is known to increase the full bodied savory taste known as umami. Glutamate was discovered by Kikunae Ikeda, a Japanese chemist, when he was investigating common qualities in foods that he ate. He found a way to extract glutamate from seaweed and stabilized it with water and salt into the compound we know today. This product spread throughout Japan and East Asia and the original “Aji no Moto” sold by Ikeda can often be found in Japanese households. 

Today, MSG can be found in a variety of foods in Japan including common seasonings, ready made meals, at restaurants and in “reduced sodium” products as a way to reduce the amount of salt used while still enhancing flavors.

Aji no Moto (MSG (Monosodium Glutamine))


MSG is most commonly referred to in Japanese as the amino acid "chyoumi-ryou (amino-san)" (調味料 (アミノ酸)). In order to identify whether a product has MSG, look for the bolded characters in the ingredients list of Japanese products. It is referred to “amino-acid” after theAji no Motoseasoning that was invented by Ikeda.MSG can also be found listed as the following: 

  • Kagaku choumi-ryou(化学調味料)
  • Kachou (化調)
  • Gurutaminnsann natoriumu(グルタミン酸ナトリウム)
  • Gurusou(グル曹)
  • Umami choumi-ryou (うまみ調味料)

For MSG-free products look forkagaku choumiryou mu tenn ka (化学調味料無添加) ormutennka (無添加) on product packaging. 

Learn more about reading nutrition labels in Japan.


Miriam Weiss Hi All! I am Miriam Weiss and am a mixed race Japanese/American passionate about promoting Japanese culture and all that it has to offer around the world. I grew up between Japan and California and was most recently living in Boston before moving to the Netherlands! I am excited to share my passion and knowledge with all of you!

5 Responses

G Bera

G Bera

April 27, 2023

I totally agree with Joel above and that was my question.



April 04, 2023

Hi Miriam,
Thanks so much for your article. I’m in Japan now, and I am loving the flavour of the food, however I am not able to sleep every night. This happens every time I visit Japan, so I am pretty sure it’s the MSG in the food. At least now I know how to research the contents of the products.

Jamie Chavez

Jamie Chavez

March 10, 2023

I wonder if this is why I was nauseous for most of the 2 weeks we were there visiting my son and his beautiful wife and daughter.

Joel Cohen

Joel Cohen

November 28, 2022

MSG, AKA “AJI NO MOTO,” & Amino Acid; is a food flavor enhancer also used to reduce salt intake in diets. It’s almost banned in America, and avoided as bad for health, passionately!
YET, it is Widely Used in Japan, the country where it was invented!
Facts: JAPAN’S POPULATION LONGEVITY IS NUMBER 1 in the World, averaging 86 years of life!
U.S. Longevity is NUMBER 46, averaging 79 years old at age of death; as of 2022!
Japanese average 7 Years Longer Life than Americans!
SO! How bad can MSG be for one’s health & longevity? Maybe it’s actually good because it reduces salt intake?
Officially, there’s no decision!
I think I’ve made mine!
I’m going with the averages. I’m primarily Vegan, with some fish!
“I think I’m turning Japanese!”

Elaine Walker

Elaine Walker

April 19, 2021

I am Japanese Canadian and I am interested in your website.

Thank you.

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