Does MSG Tenderize Meat? The Answered for Food Enthusiasts

Ken Adam
Follow Me

Many kitchens worldwide use Monosodium Glutamate, or MSG, as a flavor intensifier. But what is it, really? MSG is a salt form of glutamic acid, a natural amino acid. A frequent query is, “Is MSG used for tenderizing meat?” While it’s renowned for boosting taste, its tenderizing properties are debated. Before we explore this further, let’s look back at how MSG became a kitchen mainstay.

What Is the History and Origin of MSG in Cooking?

The tale of MSG originates from Japan, where Kikunae Ikeda discerned the umami profile in seaweed infusion. He drew out glutamate from this infusion and married it with salt, crafting monosodium glutamate. This marked the genesis of the brand “Ajinomoto,” denoting “essence of flavor.” MSG, over subsequent years, carved its niche as a go-to seasoning, predominantly in Asian kitchens. But what underpins MSG’s culinary magic, and its ascent to popularity?

How Does MSG Enhance the Flavor of Foods?

raw fresh meat ribeye steak

MSG is often dubbed a miracle component capable of lifting the taste of nearly any culinary creation. But what’s the science behind this? It has the unique ability to heighten the natural flavors already present in foods. When you sprinkle MSG into a dish, it doesn’t impart its own taste; it accentuates the existing ones, making them more palatable. This is especially true for soups and broths, which can become richer and more full-bodied. But is MSG also a meat tenderizer, or is its primary job to enhance flavors? Let’s delve into it.

The Actual Role of MSG in Cooking: Beyond Tenderizing

Many equate MSG with flavor improvement, but its culinary impact is broader. When you contemplate using MSG, it’s not solely about elevating taste. It also modifies the overall impression of a dish, rendering it more gratifying and rich.

But can MSG act as a meat tenderizer? The straightforward answer is no. While it can render meats more palatable and seem juicier, it doesn’t work on meat fibers like classic tenderizers such as marinades or enzymes. Its prowess is in magnifying the natural flavors of components, making them prominent. Therefore, when using MSG, see it as a flavor enhancer rather than a meat tenderizer.

Comparing MSG to Traditional Meat Tenderizers

ground raw meat patties meat cutlet ready to cook

Traditional meat tenderizers, like pineapple, papain, or vinegar-based marinades, work by breaking down meat proteins, making them softer. MSG, on the other hand, doesn’t function this way. While both MSG and traditional tenderizers enhance the taste of meat, their methods are different.

For instance, if you were to use a meat tenderizer with MSG, you’d find that while the meat tastes more savory and umami-rich, its texture remains unchanged. On the contrary, using something like bromelain from pineapples can make the meat softer to the bite. So, while MSG is a powerhouse in flavor enhancement, if you’re looking to soften a tough cut of meat, you might want to reach for those tried-and-true tenderizing methods.

MSG Symptom Complex: Understanding the Health Concerns

Over the years, MSG has been the subject of numerous health debates. Some individuals report symptoms like headaches, numbness, and nausea after consuming foods with MSG, often referred to as “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” or “MSG Symptom Complex.” However, extensive research by organizations like the FDA has found that MSG is generally recognized as safe when consumed in typical amounts.

It’s essential to understand that while some might have sensitivities, the majority of people can enjoy MSG without adverse effects. It’s always a good idea to be aware and listen to your body. If you suspect you’re sensitive to MSG, it’s best to consult with a healthcare professional.

How Does the FDA Regulate the Use of MSG in Food Products?

seasoning MSG

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has played a pivotal role in understanding and regulating MSG. Since the 1950s, the FDA has classified MSG as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS), a designation given to food additives that have a long history of safe use or are shown to be safe based on proven scientific research.

However, the FDA hasn’t turned a blind eye to the concerns raised by some consumers. They’ve conducted and reviewed multiple studies to ensure the safety of MSG in our food. As a result, food products containing added MSG must label it as “monosodium glutamate” on their ingredient list. This transparency allows consumers to make informed choices about their diet.

MSG in World Cuisine: More than Just Chinese Fast Food

MSG has been unfairly stigmatized, often linked solely to Chinese cuisine. But in reality, it’s a global ingredient! From the savory dishes of Japan to the hearty meals of Europe, MSG has found its way into various cuisines. Whether it’s in a sprinkle of seasoning on grilled meats in Latin America or enhancing the rich sauces of Indian curries, MSG is a global culinary star. So, the next time you’re cooking with MSG, remember you’re joining a worldwide culinary tradition!

Natural Sources of Glutamate: It’s Not Just in Additives

MSG might be the most famous source of glutamate, but it’s not the only one. Glutamate is naturally present in many foods we eat daily. Tomatoes, cheese, mushrooms, and even human breast milk contain this amino acid. So, when you savor a slice of parmesan or relish a tomato sauce, you’re enjoying the natural umami flavor brought by glutamate. It’s a testament to how integral this taste is to our palate!

Practical Cooking Tips: Using MSG in Your Kitchen

Introducing MSG to your cooking can truly transform your dishes. Here’s how to use it effectively:

  1. Begin Modestly: Less is more.
  2. Start with just a sprinkle and then fine-tune based on your preference.
  3. Combine with Salt: Pairing MSG with regular table salt can enhance the taste profile of your meal.
  4. Adaptability: Whether it’s in soups or on grilled items, MSG is versatile. Use it as a seasoning or in a marinade to uplift your dishes.
  5. Safekeeping: Store MSG in a location that’s cool and dry, similar to your other spices.
Begin ModestlyLess is more. Start with just a sprinkle and then fine-tune based on your preference.
Combine with SaltPairing MSG with regular table salt can enhance the taste profile of your meal.
AdaptabilityWhether it’s in soups or on grilled items, MSG is versatile. Use it as a seasoning or in a marinade to uplift your dishes.
SafekeepingStore MSG in a location that’s cool and dry, similar to your other spices.

Are There Any Alternatives to MSG for Enhancing Flavor in Cooking?

While many turn to MSG for flavor amplification, there are diverse ways to intensify the taste profile of your culinary creations. Natural glutamate-rich foods, such as tomatoes, cheese, and mushrooms, can evoke the umami sensation. Soy sauce, teeming with natural glutamate, stands as another prime choice. Additionally, fermented delicacies like yogurt and aged cheeses can infuse depth into your dishes. The cornerstone of culinary excellence is a deep understanding of ingredients and relentless experimentation.


For an extended period, MSG has been both a point of fascination and contention. Recognizing its growing footprint in the food sector, especially in the realm of processed and shelf-ready foods, is crucial. While it doesn’t function as a meat tenderizer, it’s a maestro in amplifying flavors.

The global landscape for MSG is poised for growth in the forecasted span, primarily driven by the uptick in demand for easy-to-consume foods. The Asia-Pacific region is the epicenter of MSG consumption, with its food processing industry playing a pivotal role. The cost dynamics of MSG production lean heavily on natural bases, and it has received a safe consumption nod from regulatory entities. For those charting growth in the MSG sector, PRB stands as a trusted advisor.

Wonderful! Share this Case:

Table of Contents

Talk to Specialists