Ajinomoto: Who Invented It And How Is MSG Made?
Image Credit: Ajinomoto | Image Credit: Ajinomoto.com

You must have often heard that ajinomoto is widely used in Chinese food all around the world. Although this seasoning is widely used, people have very little knowledge about it. Also known as MSG or monosodium glutamate, ajinomoto is a flavour-enhancing seasoning. Just as salt adds saltiness and sugar adds sweetness, MSG adds a fifth flavour—umami—to the dish.  

For the uninitiated, umami is a category of taste in food besides sweet, sour, and bitter. In 2002, scientists identified umami taste receptors on the human tongue. It can be most associated with savouriness. In Japanese, umami means ‘essence of deliciousness.’ MSG contributes to this umami taste in Chinese dishes all around the world. However, people are curious to know the history and composition of the seasoning. This article will help you get the information you need. 

Invention Of MSG 

In 1908, MSG came to the spotlight with a bowl of Kombu dashi. While indulging in the dish, the Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda discovered that there exists a flavour beyond sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. He started analysing the composition of Kombu dashi and discovered the distinct savoury flavour that came from the presence of glutamic acid, a type of amino acid according to HHS Author Manuscript in a study called ‘A review of the alleged health hazards of monosodium glutamate.’ He named the taste umami. 

Glutamate is naturally present in various foods like seaweed, cheese, fermented beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, cured hams, scallops, tuna, green peas, and beef. After discovering this flavour, Ikeda developed a seasoning with glutamate as its main component, which instantly increased the umami of the dish. He named the seasoning Ajinomoto. 

How Is Ajinomoto or MSG Seasoning Made?

Ajinomoto is a compound made from sodium and glutamic acid, which are the most common naturally occurring amino acids. MSG is prepared with plant-based ingredients such as sugar cane, sugar beets, sodium, cassava, or corn. EXCLI Journal, in the article titled ‘Extensive use of monosodium glutamate: A threat to public health?’ wrote that the estimated people’s average daily intake is 0.3–1.0 grams. 

Is MSG Harmful?

MSG got its bad reputation in the 1960s when the Chinese-American doctor Robert Ho Man Kwok wrote a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine stating that he got sick after the consumption of Chinese food. He believed that his symptoms could have resulted from either the consumption of alcohol, sodium, or MSG. 

According to the Journal of Headache and Pain, in ‘Does monosodium glutamate really cause headache? : A systematic review of human studies’, a host of misinformation was spread about MSG, which was related to the then-present biases against Chinese immigrants and their cuisines. The letter resulted in the designation of Kwok’s symptoms as “Chinese restaurant syndrome,” which later became the “MSG symptom complex.”  

HHS Author Manuscripts in their article, ‘A review of the alleged health hazards of monosodium glutamate’ suggest that popular health authorities like the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the European Food Safety Association (EFSA) consider MSG to be generally recognised as safe.