I had two meals last week that afterwards I had to drink copious amount of water for a few hours to quench the thirst. I would be surprised if one of the restaurants use additional MSG. But since the food didn’t feel overly salty at the time, the only reason I can think of for the thirst is MSG. I really don’t like meals that I have to be thirsty afterwards for the whole afternoon or whole evening. So two questions:
In order for me to limit my consumption of MSG, I want to get a better sense of what MSG taste like or how the aftertaste of MSG is like. Any signs/ taste I should look for? I am not opposed to MSG since they are also naturally occurring, but I prefer to limit consumption of food that has an excessive amount.
What other food items make people thirsty besides MSG, and salt? The common theme between these two meals is chili and chili oil. But I don’t think by itself these two components make people thirsty afterwards.
The food I get in Indian restaurants does not taste particularly salty to me, but since my ankles inevitably swell afterwards, I had my suspicions. Then, a world-traveling friend, who enjoys many cuisines and has taken cooking classes IN India, told me it uses a high level of salt.
To me, MSG tastes of umami. IME, foods being rich in umami does not necessarily mean they are thirst-inducing.
Do you have MSG in your pantry? Have you tasted it on its own?
I don’t mean this rhetorically, I actually like to know how other people perceive flavors. I am usually not a fan of flavor enhancers in any form. To me, MSG tastes like, well, MSG. Coffee added to chocolate (e.g., in brownies) does not enhance the chocolate’s flavor, it just adds the flavor of coffee. Ditto for salt and chocolate. In Pakistani/Indian cooking, many cooks use methi (fenugreek) as a sort of flavor enhancer. My parents’ families do not do this, so it bothers the heck out of me. Just the past week I’ve tasted methi in seekh kabobs, spinach, and even chicken tikka masala. It makes everything taste same-ish, just like with MSG.
Its hard to say, they possibly could. I use soy sauce and eat other umami rich food like mushroom at home in cooking. But I only find myself slightly thirsty occasionally when I accidentally add too much salt/ soy sauce, etc.
I consider myself somewhat an expert in MSG. I won’t get into any discussion about whether it causes any averse reactions or thirst or anything and just answer your question in terms of MSG flavor. My personal stance on it is that even MSG heavy foods never use enough of it that it shouldn’t be a major factor in any food-related issues.
If you eat msg by itself, the closest thing to it in terms of flavor is salt. It’s very vaguely salty and savory, but very clearly not salt. Another way to describe it might be imagining a strong chicken stock minus the chicken flavor, but in a good way. What you notice most isn’t so much what it tastes like, but what it does to your tongue. You sort of get this film of flavor that wraps around your tongue and travels to your throat.
In terms of how to identify MSG rich foods, the biggest indicator is that when you’re done eating, the flavor doesn’t leave your mouth. Things like Doritos, instant ramen, commercial fried chicken, Chinese food, Pho, and some Mexican foods, they all have this kind of effect on your mouth. Also anything made with commercial chicken base (think of the flavor of commercial chicken soup). The flavor just keeps on lingering in your mouth, in this sweeping kind of fashion. That’s the biggest indication of heavy MSG usage.
However beyond that, with reasonable MSG use it’s very very difficult to know with reasonable certainty whether it’s from MSG or things like soy or fish sauce.
If you really care to know, I would suggest buying some MSG and cooking with it a few times, it’s something that’s kind of hard to explain and much better experienced first hand.
And that’s what I am curious too. I think Chipotle the chain doesn’t use MSG. I’ve eaten many meals there over the years. I recall one where I was very thirsty afterwards. The only thing I could possibly attribute to was the chicken might be oversalted, but it didn’t taste overly salty to me at the time.
I know you won’t go there. I just want to note that I don’t necessarily have a set belief that MSG causes thirst despite the title of the discussion. It could very well be a causation vs correlation situation. Out of curiosity I just googled MSG and thirst and in one of the search results, there was a comment that MSG makes food taste less salty and so more salt is added in food with added MSG. That would make MSG and perceived thirst a correlation rather than causation issue.
Haven’t tasted MSG by itself.
That brought up another memory, I occasionally cook noodle at home. I add (Trader Joe’s) soy sauce and (Red Boat 40N) fish sauce to water as my broth when I have nothing else. A few time I added more fish sauce than usual (I think), and its thirst afterwards. I didn’t measure of course how much soy sauce I added…
I’ve personally never heard this argument, if anything I’ve seen people claim that MSG makes it so you can get away with needing less salt because it makes everything taste better. I’m honestly not quite sure about it.
I would say the best way to rule out msg as the thirst trigger would be to try consuming it at home with known safe items. Like try sauteeing some veggies and throw a little MSG on. It’s delicious and you’ll get to do your own science experiment!
I haven’t seen a study to specifically evaluate why MSG sometimes leads to an undying thirst, but I have experienced that at restaurants on occasion . My guess is that it all comes down to sodium—- you ingest 2000 mg of sodium from table salt, you’ll notice it. Ingest 2000 mg of sodium from a combination of table salt and MSG (or maggi or Braggs liquid aminos or soy sauce), I suspect the more complex sensation might distract you from realizing you’re overdoing it on sodium. Either way, you’re gonna need a lot of water.
My reading of the literature is that there is no scientific evidence to support that MSG has any ill health effects that couldn’t be explained by sodium alone or a placebo effect. Take this study, for example, which concluded that MSG leads to pain compared to a salt (NaCl) placebo, but if you look at their methods the MSG group got twice as much sodium as the placebo group.
Some background food/sensation info…
Setting aside the pressure receptors that respond to Sichuan peppercorns and pain receptors that respond to chili peppers, your mouth has receptors for five tastes – – sweet, sour, salt, bitter, and savory/umami. Umami receptors detect glutamates, proteins that naturally form in everything from tomatoes and mushrooms to fermented Items like soy sauce. Note that taste is different than flavor, which incorporates both taste and smell—- taste conveys presence of an acid; flavor, aside from pH, conveys whether it’s lemon juice or vinegar.
Umami receptors are somewhat of an anomaly for the central nervous system. If you put either sugar, Vinegar, table salt, or quinine on your tongue, your brain will recognize the first four respective tastes. As I understand it, the presence of glutamate alone on your tongue will not, however, elicit a sensation. Glutamate only gets detected by your brain if it’s in the presence of a sweet, sour, salty, or bitter thing in your mouth.
The thirstiness probably comes from having a lot of sodium. This can be from table salt, (or table salt in soy sauce, fish sauce or other sauces), which doesn’t always make the overall dish taste overtly salty. I think it’s easy to consume a day’s worth of sodium in a noodle soup, even when salted to just under an amount that would taste salty, because there is so much broth. The sodium could also be coming from MSG, mono-Sodium glutamate. I think whoever said MSG makes salt taste less salty probably meant MSG adds sodium to the dish without adding a salty taste.
As for the taste, I suggest you taste it directly. I bought a small bag for a couple dollars a while ago, and use it on occasion. Tasting it in plain water tastes like a weak broth–it is noticeable savory but no particular flavor. To me, it does not have an aftertaste. And I’m someone who likes to complain about the aftertastes of various bouillons (which typically contain MSG, as well as other flavorings). I had a roommate who liked to cook rice in Knorr bouillon, and make pork chops sprinkled with bouillon. The taste was overwhelming and awful to me, which seemed strange as she couldn’t tolerate any chili spiciness, as well as a bunch of other flavors I like, so I think individuals vary quite a bit in perceptions of these tastes.
If you bake, try it in sweets. I went through a phase where I was trying to figure out if MSG was for me. I had a lot left over, so I even tried it in Chocolate Chip cookies, Peanut Butter cookies, maple cheesecake, salted caramel, and pie crust, just to name a few off the top of my head. Out of all of those, I think peanut butter cookies were the most well received.
Did you spotted difference between the MSG and non MSG sweets? Actually, it is the first time I heard MSG used in sweet food.
I read further:
MSG (also known as monosodium glutamate or umami seasoning) does its best work when used with savory foods. These include foods that are protein-based (so meats, poultry, eggs and vegetable dishes). Other foods that can benefit from the umami taste of MSG are gravies, sauces and dressings. On the other hand, in the same way one would not put salt, pepper or seasonings in sweet foods, MSG won’t do anything for sweet dishes such as cakes, pastries, custards or puddings!
These days, salt, pepper, and seasonings are common in sweet foods. At first I would simply substitute the salt in the recipe with MSG. Then, based on how it tasted, the next time I might increase the MSG. To answer your question, yes, there was a difference. But again, it depends on each individual palate. For people who really liked MSG, they liked the MSG sweets, too. For them, it gave the sweets that addictive quality MSG is known for.
JI just tasted some “mushroom MSG” while pinching my nose. I detected a brothiness, very close to the experience/taste of eating instant ramen, which I had assumed would involve a nasal/smell component!