• Thierry Berno

Let's talk about MSG

I remember about two years ago my buddy Al Carter calling me and asking me casually what I thought of MSG.

And I also remember him being amused that my answer was a 10 minute constructed argumentation.

I won’t go into the chemical details as it’s been documented extensively by people more competent than I am. But to sum up my opinion in one sentence.

“Treat it as salt and sugar”

Use too much and it will be harmful to the consumer and won’t do much good to your dish anyway, use it wisely and it’s a potent flavour enhancer.

The term enhancer is key here as it shouldn’t be used to create flavour in something bland and lifeless, but it can be used to make some particular flavours pop, in a broth or sauce for example.

It seems to me that this point of view is shared by most people in the industry, however the few that will oppose it tend to be quite vocal about it.

And as far as opinions go, I tend to be annoyed by the extremes.

On the pro MSG side comes to my mind the lady cooking at our office canteen refusing to put together a dish because she ran out of MSG. Let this be clear, If you can’t do without it you might want to consider another career path.

On the other hand, I also don’t sympathise with people gloating about cooking “REAL” food without MSG -implying that cooks who use it are frauds- and I am pretty sure that among all the amazing dishes that left an impression on me, quite a few involved MSG at some point.

So this was my opinion 2 years ago and it hasn’t changed.

What I have been wondering about today is whether it is even worth communicating about MSG anymore.

Monosodium Glutamate has been demonised, then rehabilitated, used extensively in marketing (NO MSG) and then gradually disappeared of the conversation.

In fact as I started writing about it, it felt like beating a dead horse.

A few days ago, in the midst of one of those hot-blooded latin arguments Chef Emanuele and I often have, we pondered whether we should emphasise that we are not using MSG, but Emanuele thought it was an argument of the past. That it fell out of favour as a marketing advantage.

I thought he might be wrong at the time. But he got me thinking. And good arguments have this ability to plant the seed of comprehension into one’s brain.

Fast forward to this day and I think differently. Realising that I have been out of phase with the market.

There seems to be no point marketing about it anymore. In fact let’s not talk about MSG. They will sit quietly on the shelves of kitchens all around the world, occasionally giving a bad case of “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” to a guy ingesting Doritos by the bag any day of the week.

The world of nutrition is in full boom and people are more educated about it than they ever were. It’s time for me to start studying again.

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