MSG usage in the ethnic food catering industry
safefood has carried out a survey of MSG use in Chinese, Indian and Thai restaurants and take-away outlets in Cork and Belfast. Both standard dishes of food typically expected to contain added MSG and MSG-free options were purchased and analysed for total free glutamate.
It was clear from the standard dish samples that the use of MSG varied considerably from one premises to another. The number of premises that used excessive amounts of MSG was very low. In other premises, there was no difference in the free glutamate content between the standard and MSG-free options suggesting that MSG was used in very small amounts or not at all, but also that, even where MSG is not used, you can still get free glutamate from other ingredients.
Chinese dishes, especially those that were sauce based, contained the highest concentrations of free glutamate while Indian and Thai dishes had much lower concentrations. However, the MSG-free option always had much lower free glutamate levels indicating that a request for an MSG-free meal can be accommodated.
Customers should bear in mind that even an MSG-free dish option could still contain free glutamate from other ingredients and this may well include MSG or other glutamate-based food additives in some of the processed ingredients. Restaurant staff were not always aware of this or why MSG is used in the first place. However, since free glutamate was detected in all the ethnic cuisine tested, it is in their interests to advise customers that (a) they don’t add MSG to their dishes or, where it is added, this step can be omitted, and (b) their dishes may contain free glutamate from other ingredients.