Best Use Practices
Amino acids are the building blocks of all proteins found in nature, including those found in foods. While different proteins might have different amounts of various amino acids, the amino acid most commonly found in most food proteins is glutamine, of which glutamate is a natural form. When proteins break down in a food system due to aging, ripening, or fermentation, the amino acids are liberated from the protein and contribute different tastes. The presence of glutamic acid uniquely contributes the basic taste of umami. While the presence of glutamic acid is universal in food proteins, some contain higher levels than others. Tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, seaweed, and vegetables in the Brassica
family (cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts), as well as aged cheeses, fermented wheat and legumes (especially soy), and yeast all are rich in glutamic acid.
MSG is the salt of this most common amino acid and delivers an exceptional umami character to foods. Umami has the function of expanding the flavor of savory foods, delivering a more enhanced—yet more complete—overall flavor character.
When used in formulations, MSG will naturally break down into its sodium and glutamate components. The addition of MSG to foods already containing glutamate amplifies the flavor characteristics of these foods even more.
Savory foods benefit the most from the addition of MSG to the system, with the overall flavor of a meat, tomato, or mushroom sauce, soup, or stock being amplified by the inclusion of MSG. Depending on the application, the use of MSG at only 0.1 to 0.8% of the weight of a formulation—less than 1g per 100g—can make an impressive difference. In smaller amounts, MSG also can be used to balance other flavor notes, such as salty, sour, bitter, astringent, or earthy characters.
Many foods naturally contain the levels of glutamate similar to those delivered when MSG is added at these amounts into the system. This
is important to understand in light of the persistence of anecdotally based negative perceptions of this proven safe ingredient.
MSG works best in savory products such as meats, poultry, seafood, vegetables, soups, casseroles, egg dishes, gravies, and sauces. It is commonly available as odorless and colorless fine, crystals. It can be incorporated into food formulations either before or during cooking—the same as with table salt or similar flavorings or seasonings. As a rule of thumb, plan on about 1/2 teaspoon MSG per pound of animal protein in a food, or use the same amount per three cups of a vegetable-based recipe, casserole, stew, or soup.
This same amount works well in formulations for packaged foods and snacks, such as chips, crackers, jerky products, and sausages. Research also suggests that MSG can be used to reduce total sodium in non-sweet bakery products, such as breads, biscuits, and rolls.
The experts at Ajinomoto Health & Nutrition North America, Inc. (part of the Ajinomoto Group) are on hand to help food product formulators and manufacturers maximize flavor and health in their products. With more than 125 years of expertise in the science of amino acids, the Ajinomoto team of food scientists and chefs is the world’s leading source for umami and kokumi. They are ready to partner with food product designers and manufacturers to bring savory reduced-sodium products from concept to creation.