What’s a Good MSG Substitute to Achieve Umami Flavor?

When you want to add more of an umami flavor to your food, MSG will do the job. You’re probably familiar with MSG, a flavor enhancer usually associated with Chinese food and found in numerous processed foods.

You can easily find MSG in your local grocery store, but what if you have none at home? There are numerous MSG substitutes you can use, many of them that you can find in the kitchen.

Read on to find the best MSG substitute here on our list!


MSG Substitute: Top 10 Alternatives To Monosodium Glutamate

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MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is a crystal powder acting as a flavor enhancer when cooking. We use this to boost flavors in dishes, whether in restaurants or at home. (*)

It’s a naturally abundant amino acid, which is commercially produced added in canned vegetables, salad dressings, soups, chips, processed meats, bouillon cubes, processed foods, and the like. 

1.   Soy Sauce

Soy sauce is an excellent monosodium glutamate substitute, an umami-rich sauce that you can add to soups, casseroles, and stir-fries. We like that soy sauce provides a salty and savory flavor to cooked dishes, which you can find in practically all supermarkets.

2.   Cheddar or Parmesan Cheese

Parmesan cheese is an Italian cheese with a rich source of natural MSG because of the fermentation. The entire process will help release amino acids when proteins break down, providing the savory flavor to pizza, pasta, risotto, among many Italian dishes.

That said, parmesan cheese isn’t usually for Asian dishes and won’t work well in a stir-fry! You’re better off using this in Italian cuisine.

Cheddar cheese is also another monosodium glutamate substitute, though it’s best to age for at least a year for the best flavor.

3.   Salt

Salt may not sound like such a creative MSG substitute, though it’s very effective in enhancing flavors. Different types of salt can play a massive part in how your dish will taste like, too.

We recommend using kosher or sea salt for the best results. While you can use low-priced table salt, use it only early on as you prepare your dish, but not when serving it.

4.   Spice and Herb Combinations

If you don’t have any other MSG substitutes, you can always use spice and herb combinations. Find the blend of herbs you love, then add it to stews, soups, salads, or omelets for a much richer flavor.

5.   Beef Stock

The beef stock offers the best possible flavors, and you can create your own through slow-cooking aromatics and beef bones. The meaty flavor from beef stock is similar to MSG, adding more umami to food.

Beef stock, like MSG, has high levels of glutamate, amino acids from the meat’s protein. When you reduce stock, the higher the glutamate concentration, hence more umami deliciousness.

If you have no time for homemade stock, you can opt for bouillon cubes (or beef stock cubes), which you can simply add to water. You can also use a vegetable bouillon cube.

6.   Oyster Sauce

Oyster sauce might not be everyone’s choice, but if you like this sauce, then this is just fine as an MSG substitute. Depending on your taste preferences, you can use as much oyster sauce as you see fit.

Use it in soups, salads, or other sauces requiring MSG. Plus, you can get oyster sauce in different flavors, including spicy varieties.

7.   Flavored Oils

Another excellent MSG substitute that suits all types of dishes is any flavored oil. You can use your favorite oil for seasoning, sautéing, stir-frying, or spicing up dishes.

There are so many great oils you can choose from when replacing MSG. You can get sesame, sunflower, and even avocado oil, to name a few. There are also oils flavored with notes of mushrooms, garlic, and other savory flavor profiles for umami and spice.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of different oils and flavors, so there aren’t concrete rules as to how much and what kind of oil to use. It all depends on what type of cooking you want, the type of oil, and your desired result.

8.   Dulse

Dulse is a seaweed with a slightly salty and savory flavor with a subtle ocean taste! You can pick dulse from rocks in certain parts of the world or find it in Asian grocery stores.

Dulse is sold as a dried product you can rehydrate into Asian dishes where you add MSG. We recommend using dulse in flavors on broths like dashi, which accents the meaty flavors.

9.   Yeast Extract

You can easily find yeast extract in grocery stores, using it to replace MSG in most of your recipes. We commonly use yeast for preparing beer and bread, but you can also add it to stews, soups, and various dressings as an MSG alternative.

Yeast offers a neutral flavor so that you won’t taste much of it in your dishes, but it will continue enhancing the other flavors of your ingredients.

10. Mushrooms

Mushrooms add savory flavors to dishes that require mushrooms. It’s a bold choice and won’t work in all dishes; they add more glutamate if you use it carefully.

Mushrooms work in intensifying your food’s inherent flavors, particularly in soups and stews. You can also use mushrooms in salads for a savory taste.

We highly recommend using shiitake mushrooms for this since it has intense flavors. Also, make sure that the particular mushroom’s taste fits in with your dish before replacing MSG with it.

Frequently Asked Questions

Find out more about MSG here with our frequently asked questions: 

1.   Can I leave Monosodium Glutamate out of recipes?

While MSG can enhance food flavor, it doesn’t bring much more benefit than that. So, if you’d like to skip out on the MSG, you can use a healthier substitute from the list above.

2.   Can I make MSG myself?

Some people claim that they can make their own MSG through fermenting food containing high glutamate concentrations.

That said, MSG and the alternatives we mentioned above are affordable and readily available in grocery stores, so it’s better to purchase them instead of creating your own. That’s because the process of making MSG is time-tedious as it involves culturing decomposing items carefully.

3.   Is MSG bad for the health?

The FDA says that MSG is safe to consume, like salt, as long as you use it moderately. (*)

There have been reports of people suffering from upset stomachs or headaches after consuming food high in MSG. However, FASEB concluded that these are only short-term symptoms in sensitive people who consumed over 3 grams of MSG without any food.

The typical serving of food containing MSG is less than 0.5 grams.

4.   Is there such a thing as natural MSG?

Yes, Monosodium Glutamate naturally occurs in various foods, such as cheese and tomatoes. That’s why both of these ingredients make great MSG substitutes.

Wrapping It Up

Who needs MSG when you can use our list of MSG alternatives? We hope it helps you with your cooking, whether you’re preparing Chinese cuisine or other Asian cuisines! So, try any of these MSG alternatives so you can enjoy your food.

If you’d like to share your experience on any of these ingredients, then comment below. We’d love to hear what you have to think.

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