MSG (monosodium glutamate) is a crystal powder that is used in cooking. It is also one of the most common ingredients in processed foods.
Chefs mostly use MSG to refine the flavor of savory dishes in restaurants, but you can also use it at home in daily cooking. It adds a rich meaty flavor to all the dishes it is added to.
MSG is FDA-approved, but most people still consider it a controversial ingredient. The people I have interacted with cite health effects as their reason for not using MSG.
If you want to replace MSG with another ingredient because you are skeptical about the health effects it would have on you or your family or can’t find it in the grocery store in the supermarket; this article is for you.
We will discuss in detail all the suitable MSG substitutes.
Beef stock, parmesan cheese, soy sauce, shiitake mushrooms, anchovies, dulse, salt, yeast extract, tomatoes, herbs, and dairy concentrates are ideal MSG substitutes.
The chances are that you already have most of these substitutes stocked in your kitchen.
Read on to see how to comfortably use these substitutes the next time you need to replace MSG in your recipe.
Beef stock is arguably the best MSG substitute. It naturally improves the meaty flavors in meaty dishes and vegetables, the same way that MSG does.
Both beef stock and MSG are rich in glutamate, an amino acid obtained from meat’s protein. This explains why the flavor of beef stock is very similar to that of MSG.
For the best results, I highly recommend making your own beef stock at home. You can easily do this by slow-cooking bones in a stockpot. Note that the more you reduce the stock, the more concentrated its umami flavor will be.
If you don’t feel motivated enough to make your own beef stock, add bouillon cubes or beef stock cubes to water for a quick fix.
Note that most manufacturers add MSG to bouillon cubes and beef stock cubes. Whether or not MSG is one of the ingredients, you will end up with stock that will add a meaty taste to your dishes.
The only difference between MSG and beef stock is that MSG is more suitable for use in a variety of dishes. However, beef stock is a cheaper option, and you can make your own at home.
You can substitute MSG with beef stock in most dishes that call for MSG.
Just like MSG, parmesan cheese is rich in glutamate. Therefore, it also adds a savory and meaty flavor to dishes.
Parmesan is Italian cheese. Its fermentation process makes it a rich source of natural MSG.
Parmesan cheese would be an ideal MSG substitute in pizzas, risotto, pasta, and other Italian dishes. However, it would be out of place in stir fry dishes and Asian dishes.
Parmesan cheese adds a concentrated umami flavor to dishes. I highly recommend using it in soups and casseroles. The taste is simply amazing.
Soy sauce is a decent MSG substitute. It has an umami flavor and is usually added to various dishes, including soups, stir fry dishes, and casseroles. Soy sauce is readily available, and you can buy it in any grocery store or supermarket near you.
It is important that you check the soy sauce ingredients before use to ensure that it does not contain MSG.
You can also consider using a fish sauce or oyster sauce instead of soy sauce. Both of them are packed with flavor, so ensure that you use them in moderation, as their savory flavor can easily overpower any dish.
If you use too much, you may end up with a dish that is over salted.
Are you making stew, burger patties, or meatballs? Use Worcestershire sauce instead of MSG. The sauce will significantly enhance the flavor.
Compared to other vegetables, shiitake mushrooms have a very high glutamate concentration.
Note that when added to savory dishes, shiitake mushrooms will heighten the flavor of other ingredients. Additionally, this substitute will give your dishes an intense mushroom flavor.
To use shiitake mushrooms as a substitute, caramelize them in a pan and then oven-roast them. This way, the mushroom flavor will be more intense.
Alternatively, you could use mushroom seasoning. The seasoning is super convenient since all you have to do is shake it into your dish.
Anchovies are very rich in glutamate and are an ideal addition to moist cooked dishes. I highly recommend using this substitute in saucy Italian dishes, sauces, and pasta.
Just like MSG, anchovies add an umami flavor to dishes. Note that the fish flavor in anchovies is very subtle when cooked.
Chances are you won’t even notice it. So don’t be skeptical about using this substitute in your dishes.
Dulse is another suitable MSG substitute. It is a seaweed that has a savory flavor. Most people also claim that that dulse has a mild taste of the ocean.
You can buy this substitute in most Asian grocery stores. Grocers usually sell it in its dried form. Therefore, you have to dehydrate it before using it in dishes that call for MSG.
Dulse is an ideal addition to Asian dishes because it enhances the meaty and savory flavors.
Both sea salt and regular table salt are suitable MSG alternatives.
However, I highly recommend using sea salt because it has a much softer flavor than table salt.
If you want a more enhanced flavor, consider using Korean bamboo salt, sulfuric Indian black salt, or kosher salt. If you use table salt, add it early in your dish.
This substitute is commonly used in making bread and beer. In addition, it is known to enhance the savory flavor in dishes.
You can buy yeast extract in specialty stores or well-stocked supermarkets. It is sold in its powdered form.
When using yeast extract as an MSG substitute, use it in moderation as it can easily overpower your dish.
Tomatoes are an ideal MSG substitute because they contain glutamate. Therefore, they give dishes a natural umami flavor.
If you choose to use this substitute, roast the tomatoes before adding them to your dish. This way, the flavor will be more intense.
You can use this substitute in most dishes that require you to use MSG.
If you are looking for a healthier MSG alternative, you can use herbs in its place. Herbs like rosemary, tarragon, pepper, savory, and garlic are ideal alternatives.
You can also use spices like cumin and turmeric as they add warmth to +dishes they are added to.
Depending on the combination of herbs you use, these alternatives can significantly enhance the flavor of your dishes.
You can always buy the pre-mixed herb combination but read the ingredients beforehand to ensure it does not contain MSG.
You can use this substitute in most recipes that call for MSG.
Dairy concentrates like butter, cheese, and cream can also be used in place of MSG.
My favorite thing about these substitutes is that you can use them in a variety of dishes. Additionally, they refine the fatty mouthfeel of dishes you add them to.
Interesting facts about MSG
- MSG made a debut in the 1920s. Japanese locals used it to enhance the flavor of ramen, bento boxes, and dashi. It was also used as an ingredient in processed foods.
- Scientific studies have shown that MSG is safe for human consumption. However, most people still shy away from using it in daily cooking.
- MSG has a small amount of sodium, about 1/3 of the amount of sodium in salt.
- MSG is present in everyday ingredients, including tomatoes and mushrooms. The average person consumes approximately 20g of glutamate daily.
- Glutamate promotes healthy metabolism. Cells of the digestive system mostly use the glutamate we consume as fuel.
- You can use MSG in place of salt in several recipes. It is a healthier option since the sodium content is significantly reduced, yet the much-wanted umami flavor is still noticeable.
- It would be best if you use MSG in moderation. If you use too much MSG, the food will not taste as good.
For the longest time, MSG has been used to refine the flavor of savory dishes. However, some people shy away from using this synthetic ingredient for various reasons.
MSG is a popular ingredient in Asian cuisine, but it also comes in handy in several other dishes.
If you need to substitute MSG with another ingredient during cooking, you should consider using the substitutes we have discussed above.
Beef stock, parmesan cheese, and soy sauce are my personal favorites. Alternatively, you could leave out the MSG and not replace it with another ingredient. The salt you add to your dish will add flavor without giving your dish an awkward taste.
Next time you need to replace MSG with something else in your cooking, use any of the substitutes discussed above and let me know how it turns out.