Have you ever wondered what ancient people used before modern spices and food enhancers? Or did you simply assume that food tasted a lot worse? (*)
There was a blooming culinary life thousands of years before modern civilization. And scientists claim that they had just as good, if not better, meals than we do today. (*)
Unfortunately, not everything has improved in modern times. This is especially true for food quality and versatility. (*)
Today we will teach you how to substitute one of the most popular additives in fast food and pre-packaged goods: accent seasoning.
It is a common additive in Asian gastronomy, particularly in the United States.
But if it’s so popular, why do people want to substitute it left and right?
Well, because it’s difficult to find outside of America. Home cooks in other parts of the world are frequently forced to seek out convenient substitutes for accent seasoning.
First, we must understand how accent seasoning enhances flavors and then choose the best alternatives.
What is accent seasoning precisely, and how does it work?
It’s one of the most popular flavor enhancers, with the primary ingredient being MSG (monosodium glutamate).
You can find this strange-named additive in all pre-packaged and ready-made foods.
Despite being a flavor enhancer, MSG has little flavor on its own. It is essentially a white crystal-like powder, similar to salt or sugar.
To better understand how it works, let’s go over the most prominent questions regarding accent seasoning and MSG.
What is accent seasoning made of?
Besides the world-renowned MSG, it has additional spices: ground paprika, oregano, chili pepper, garlic extract, cumin, onion, and salt.
Is MSG the same as accent seasoning?
They are not entirely the same. The main ingredient in accent seasoning is MSG. However, it has other spices and additives to it, as well as some hydrolyzed protein.
Some versions of accent seasoning have yeast extract or corn syrup. At the same time, MSG is a flavor enhancer in itself.
What is MSG?
Monosodium glutamate is a synthetic version of natural glutamates. They are found naturally in cheeses, tomatoes, and some fish.
MSG adds umami flavor to foods. Despite its recent discovery, umami has been a universally loved and used flavor throughout history. (*)
Is accent seasoning unhealthy?
Store-bought accent seasoning is not unhealthy or dangerous per se. However, the main ingredient, MSG, is controversial.
Some studies conclude that it decreases healthy gut microbiomes significantly in a high-fat diet. This can lead to obesity, autoimmune flare-ups, metabolic syndrome, and nervous system problems. (*,*)
To avoid people’s hesitancy toward MSG, manufacturers now use a variety of names for this additive. Just to name a few: L-glutamate, monohydrate, and L-glutamic acid.
It is better to be safe than sorry; we will list some spot-on alternatives to MSG and accent seasoning. It’s easy to breathe life into foods without them.
How do MSG and accent seasoning enhance flavors?
When MSG touches your tongue, it activates glutamate receptors in an instant. Technically, it doesn’t do anything with food. It simply lets you taste them more.
Glutamates are natural amino acids that make food taste better.
MSG paired with accent seasoning completes the flavor profile with umami and balances out the five main flavor components in savory dishes.
In what foods do you typically use accent seasoning?
MSG is commonly found in meat dishes, soups, tofu, vegetables, rice meals, and all-around industrially produced goods.
It adds a splash of color to everything from mashed potatoes to fried rice, condiments, and fast food.
The Best Accent Seasoning Substitutes
When choosing an accent seasoning substitute, consider how you will incorporate it into your recipe.
There are more ways to do it; sprinkle it on food before baking, add it to sauces and meals after or during cooking, or blend it into ground foods.
Even better, using it in marinades or as a meat tenderizer will probably make the biggest difference in how your food tastes.
When stir-frying, however, always add it after cooking. If it burns, it can lose its flavor.
#1. An equal ratio of salt, vinegar, and sugar
In Eastern European cuisine and some other places as well, there’s a frequently used method to quickly enhance the flavors of lettuce, cabbage, and other vegetables.
In a bowl of lukewarm water, mix almost equal amounts of white vinegar, salt, and sugar. Keep mixing them until they dissolve completely while tasting the compound.
It shouldn’t taste particularly salty, sweet, or sour. The key is to make it balanced.
Add this mixture to sauces, stews, ragus, vegetables, or fruits.
#2. Beef Broth
Beef stock, as opposed to chicken or vegetable ones, naturally have an umami flavor due to the glutamate content in them.
The natural glutamates in beef stock work as a flavor enhancer. We suggest you add some extra salt with it to your food.
You can add some garlic and stronger spices to better substitute accent seasoning.
We strongly recommend making your own aromatic beef broth instead of buying some. The more you reduce it, the stronger the umami flavor becomes, especially with bones in it.
You can buy Bouillon in powder or cubes. They serve as an excellent substitute for accent seasoning and MSG. And the best part is that they are low in calories and sodium.
This seasoning is made from dehydrated vegetables, fat, meat stock, salt, and seasonings. Some even have MSG in them.
It works best in hearty dishes like stews, soups, ragus, or beef dishes. Alternatively, you can buy vegan and vegetarian versions of Bouillon.
We recommend adding them to foods prior to or during cooking.
#4. Liquid Amino Acids
Amino acids are nature’s MSG. As an amazingly versatile substitute for accent seasoning, you can add them to any meal you can think of.
More so, it’s a gluten-free substitute to create a powerhouse of flavors in your dishes. A true secret ingredient to amuse any dinner guest.
Liquid amino acids can be found in bigger stores, and they are extracted primarily from soybeans.
#5. Soy Sauce
With an enticing umami flavor, Soy Sauce is a qualified substitute for accent seasoning or MSG.
Doing so with a tinge of bitterness beneath a sparkling sweet-sour flavor. Soy sauce spikes the flavor of stir-fries, noodles, salads, rice, and marinades.
It can be used as a substitute for accent seasoning in any Asian dish. We recommend an unpasteurized, aged, organic soy sauce.
Learn more: What Can I Substitute for Dark Soy Sauce?
#6. Shiitake mushroom powder
Among vegetables, these powerful mushrooms have the highest glutamate content.
Shiitake mushroom powder can be found online, at farmer’s markets, and in Asian grocery stores.
We have a more spot-on solution for you to make it an excellent natural substitute for accent seasoning.
Soak the mushroom powder in water or broth with a little seaweed. Congrats! You’ve just made natural MSG.
#7. Fish sauce or Oyster sauce
Fish and oyster sauce are all about umami. However, they can quickly overpower any dish, so use them wisely.
Among fish sauces, anchovies have the most umami flavor. We like to add these flavor bombs in small packets to pasta sauces, Italian dishes, and salad dressings.
Aside from anchovies, some dashi will work well instead of accent seasoning in Asian dishes.
When fish sauce is cooked, it won’t hit your nose or palate hard. They blend into recipes nicely.
#8. Fermented shrimp paste
This umami-rich substitute for accent seasoning comes from Southeast Asian and Chinese gastronomy.
Surprisingly, it doesn’t have an overpowering flavor. Serve alongside rice, green mangoes, bok choy, Asian seafood, Thai curry, and vegetables.
However, use it sparingly as it has a crazy-strong aroma. We hate the smell, but it adds an amazing umami flavor to dishes.
As you cook it more, the fragrance mellows.
#9. Dulse seaweed
This dried packet of seaweed is commonly used to add a sweet-savory, umami taste to foods in Asian cuisine.
According to science, it is perfect for replicating a porky, bacony taste and is much healthier than kale.
Dulse seaweed will perfectly replace accent seasoning or MSG. We recommend rehydrating it into chickpea, tuna, or mushroom dishes.
For vegans or vegetarians, it can serve as a fish sauce to replace accent seasoning or MSG.
#10. Tianmian Sauce
This fermented sweet black bean paste complements beef, steaks, stir-fries, pulled pork, and tofu as an accent seasoning substitute.
It adds a complex, sweet, and umami flavor profile to dishes made from fermented soybeans.
Look for them in Chinese specialty stores, and we recommend pairing them with sesame oil and miso paste. Combine them for an extraordinary flavor.
Shockingly, when you add only MSG to a cup of water, it WILL taste like chicken soup. So it’s understandable that people would prefer natural substitutes instead.
Natural or artificial, only use MSG and accent seasoning in savory dishes. We wouldn’t use it in sweets, as you get a strange, beefy aftertaste.
One accent seasoning alternative we haven’t touched on is Marmite. It has one of the highest natural glutamate content among all the ingredients.
However, Marmite can completely dominate any dish and is very difficult to integrate into recipes. Furthermore, it’s not available for most people outside Australia. As a hardly inconvenient candidate, we felt it’s best left out.
Some frequently suggested alternatives to accent seasoning are less than ideal. Salt is one of them. It’s the most one-dimensional substitute for accent seasoning, and you already use it in everything.
But what is our favorite way to use accent seasoning and its substitutes? As a dry rub on meats for grilling and barbecue because it draws out water much faster than salt.