9 Unexpected Things You Should Season With MSG

9 Unexpected Things You Should Season With MSG
Graphic: Elena Scotti,Photo: Getty Images,Photo: Shutterstock

Monosodium glutamate is a crystallised flavour enhancer that makes pretty much any savoury food taste good. You can put it in almost any sauce, soup, stew, or dressing, and it will make it just a little bit better. We’ve already discussed MSG’s more obvious applications, but that was years ago, and I’ve discovered a few unique and unexpected uses for the umami amplifier since then. Come with me on a flavour journey, won’t you?

Salads

Photo: Brent Hofacker, Shutterstock Photo: Brent Hofacker, Shutterstock

You know why people love ranch dressing? It’s not the herbs, or even the buttermilk — it’s the MSG. A couple shakes is all it takes to add just enough umami to keep your mouth interested in a pile of vegetables without having to slather them in some sort of dressing. (I wouldn’t forgo the dressing entirely, but it’s nice to not need it so desperately.)

Add MSG to Every Salad

Anyone serious about salads knows that one cannot rely on dressing alone to flavour your greens. No: The key to a good salad lies in treating each component with thoughtfulness and care, which requires seasoning your damn leaves. In my kitchen, this means seasoning them with MSG.

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Tuna salad

Photo: GMEVIPHOTO, Shutterstock Photo: GMEVIPHOTO, Shutterstock

Some canned tuna is just plain bland, and coating it with mayo only further dulls its flavour. If you find yourself confronted with such an uninspiring tin of fish, a few sprinkles of MSG can perk it right up. Rather than changing the flavour profile of the tuna, it simply gives it what should’ve been there in the first place. Pair it with a little fish sauce, and you have a tuna salad sandwich that tastes right.

Martinis and Bloody Marys

Photo: Claire Lower Photo: Claire Lower

I am absolute trash for a filthy martini, a bold Bloody Mary, or a Clamato-heavy Caesar or michelada. These things are good because they are rich and savoury in a way that feels a little wrong. Am I drinking brine? Am I drinking soup? Am I getting drunk? Yes. Yes to all of it. MSG takes this vibe to the next level, making your Bloodies merrier and your martinis dirtier.

Any and all batters

Photo: Claire Lower Photo: Claire Lower

People (mostly those on Pinterest) used to say that the secret ingredient to Chick-fil-A’s sandwiches and nuggets was pickle juice, but this was never true. The secret to their chicken’s enticing flavour is and always has been monosodium glutamate. Once you realise this, your fried-in-batter food game will be bumped up to the next level. You can use this knowledge to make your own nugs, but you can also add a couple of teaspoons to any dry brine or batter mixture for easy, extra savoury flavour.

A roasted bird

Photo: AS Food studio, Shutterstock Photo: AS Food studio, Shutterstock

Actually, you don’t need to batter a bird to give it a meaty boost. Any whole bird or bird part can (and should) be sprinkled with a little monosodium glutamate, particularly on the skin, which — if you do it up right — should essentially be a crispy meat cracker. This move also results in extra-flavourful pan drippings, which can in turn be used to make your vegetables taste better.

Caramel

Photo: MaraZe, Shutterstock Photo: MaraZe, Shutterstock

Salted caramel is very 2011, but MSG caramel is totally 2034. It is the ultimate in contrasts — buttery, sweet, salty, and deeply savoury. Like fish sauce caramel, only more dessert (and vegetarian) friendly.

Aeroplane food

Photo: Aureliy, Shutterstock Photo: Aureliy, Shutterstock

Did you know that being up in the sky inside a big flying tube decreases your sensitivity to sweet and salty foods? Did you know that it also enhances your ability to detect umami? Both of these things are true, which is why people order tomato juice on planes, and why I always carry a tiny shaker of MSG with me whenever I travel. (I know most of use haven’t travelled in some time, but maybe some day!) If the only you can really taste is things that are savoury, you might as well season your food with the most savoury crystal around.

Bland tomatoes

Photo: virtu studio, Shutterstock Photo: virtu studio, Shutterstock

I try to avoid eating tomatoes before July, but I’m rarely successful, which means I eat at least one sub-par tomato every year. Bland tomatoes lack both sweet and savoury notes, but you can cheat your way to a better tasting love apple with a sprinkle of MSG and a pinch of sugar. (It still won’t be as good as an August tomato, but it will be much closer.)

Use Sugar To Improve The Flavour Of Subpar Tomatoes

With the exception of cherry tomatoes – which are good pretty much all year – I try to avoid buying tomatoes until at least mid-summer, as purchasing them outside their season usually leads to disappointment. But I’m not perfect, and the other day I slipped up and bought (quite) a...

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Apples

Photo: gowithstock, Shutterstock Photo: gowithstock, Shutterstock

This is by far my most controversial MSG take, but the stuff is — in actual fact — very good on an apple. It functions like parmesan, providing a savoury counterpoint to the fruit’s crisp sweetness, only it’s not a cheese; it’s a crystallised compound, which means vegans and the lactose intolerant can get in on the fun. I bet it would be pretty good on mango, pineapple, and cantaloupe too. (Honestly, if you ever wrap fruit in meat — like prosciutto — you shouldn’t find a little sprinkle of MSG off-putting in the slightest.)

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