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Monosodium Glutamate (MSG): How to Replace it

June 17, 2022 ,

Monosodium glutamate, also known as sodium glutamate, or MSG, is the sodium salt of glutamic acid. It occurs naturally in many foods, including peas, mushrooms, tomatoes and some cheeses. It is used in the food industry as a flavor enhancer, as it balances and improves the overall perception of other foods, conferring the umami effect.


This product is at the origin of the famous “Chinese restaurant syndrome“, described anecdotally by an American scientist in an article published in 1968. According to him, people who ate in Chinese restaurants tended to feel bad: weakness, palpitations, numbness; the culprit being the MSG.

Subsequently, several scientific studies have cleared the MSG beyond any doubt. Moreover, international and national food safety organizations consider monosodium glutamate to be harmless for human consumption as a flavor enhancer.

Nevertheless, some people may be very sensitive to it and experience tingling, nausea, or headaches, about 20 minutes after consumption. In this case, it is best to avoid MSG.

Alternatives to MSG

1. Beef broth

A good homemade beef broth, well reduced, is very concentrated in umami. To obtain the best possible flavor it is necessary to cook the bones and aromatics slowly. For a quick and easy option you can use broth or cubes, but you must check the label of the product because it could contain MSG.

2. Soy sauce and other commercial sauces

Soy sauce is a good substitute, rich in umami. As with broth cubes, first check the list of ingredients to ensure that there is no MSG added. Oyster sauce, fish sauce (nam pla), and Worcestershire sauce can also be used to enhance the taste of dishes. Being high in salt, they should be used in moderation.

3. Shiitake mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms have one of the highest concentrations of glutamate in vegetables. Incorporated into savory dishes, they not only add an intense mushroom flavor, but also help to enhance the other ingredients.

4. Parmesan cheese

Thanks to the fermentation process, Parmesan cheese is naturally rich in MSG. This is the reason why it is commonly added on pasta, pizza, risotto and other many Italian dishes. If you have a parmesan cheese crust left in the bottom of your fridge don’t throw it away: The umami flavor is more intense in the crust, which you can clean and add as is to your casseroles and soups.

5. Anchovies

Anchovies are one of the fish richest in glutamate. If you’re worried that they will give a fishy taste to your dishes, think again: a small fillet added in a sauce is enough to give flavour depth and an umami touch, without any fishy flavour once cooked.

6. Herbs and spices

Enhancing the taste of your dishes by adding herbs and spices is a great way to reduce salt, hence improving your cardiovascular health at the same time.


Cinzia Cuneo
Cinzia Cuneo, founder of, never wanted to neglect the quality of her food. She shares her special expertise to make good food quickly and without complications!

7 comments to “Monosodium Glutamate (MSG): How to Replace it”

January 3, 2023 Elizabeth Eakin said:

Please explain msg in parmesan cheese, say it’s an alternative. But how?
Thanks Elizabeth Eakin

Cinzia Cuneo
January 7, 2023 Cinzia Cuneo said:

Hi Elizabeth,
It’s a well known trick in Italy: parmesan rinds can be added to broths and soups. With the heat, the cheese softens and releases its flavor.

November 10, 2023 Luna said:

FYI, Oyster Sauce has msg too.

Cinzia Cuneo
November 12, 2023 Cinzia Cuneo said:

Hi Luna, Most oyster sauces dont’contain MSG. But, as mentioned in the article, you need to check the list of ingredients to ensure that there is no MSG added.

February 17, 2024 Marilyn Eldridge said:

What food enhancer can be used in dry ingredients other than msg

Cinzia Cuneo
February 18, 2024 Cinzia Cuneo said:

Hello Marilyn,
The most accessible one is herbs and spices

March 19, 2024 Shelagh said:

It might be that most people don’t react to MSG but that does not mean it’s not a real problem! I have really bad headaches that last for as long as 3 days when I inadvertently eat something that has MSG and it makes life very difficult, the worst part is that manufacturers often disguise the use of MSG with different names which can be life threatening for some people! It would be great if at least manufacturers could be honest about what goes into their products as well as for others who don’t even understand what it feels like to wonder every time you eat if you’re going to be down and out for a few days

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