Does Kimchi Have MSG? Yes, and It’s Natural!

Kimchi always has MSG. Even your homemade kimchi contains MSG, as it is produced naturally during fermentation. Glutamate, the flavor enhancer found in kimchi, is technically a type of salt, just like table salt. It can be used as an ingredient to make other foods taste better or as a preservative for kimchi and any other food that undergoes fermentation.

Umami flavor is crucial to kimchi.

Most types of kimchi should pack a punch in terms of flavor. Umami is the key to achieve this. Umami flavors are typically described as savory or meaty tasting, so it should come as no surprise that kimchi would have this kind of flavor too!

When we eat kimchi, we can taste both sweet and sour flavors at first. But soon after that, only savory (umami) flavor remains on our tongue even if we drink plain water after eating it. The reason for this is because umami becomes dominant once our tongue gets used to all the other flavors combined by food ingredients. Umami is the 5th taste that covers a broad spectrum of flavors that people describe as savory or brothy.

The relationship between MSG and umami

MSG (monosodium glutamate) is the chemical name for one type of umami flavor enhancer used in kimchi and other processed foods . MSG also emphasizes umami, as it comes from glutamate and ribonucleotides (2 components of glutamic acid). Fortunately, we don’t need to add MSG to ensure a unique umami flavor.

Does store-bought kimchi contain MSG?

Almost all kimchi at the store will have msg added to it. Food manufacturers add monosodium glutamate to kimchi to create an “addictively” tasty product.  It has been used in kimchi for many decades. It’s important to remember that kimchi, like other pickled foods, is acidic and contains salt. The combination of the acidity of kimchi, the saltiness of kimchi, and the umami flavors of MSG is what make kimchi taste delicious. However, you can make fantastic kimchi without relying on added MSG, because…

MSG is produced naturally in kimchi.

Kimchi contains 12 mg of natural msg per 100 g. So this amount of likely found in kimchi regardless if the kimchi has msg added or not. Glutamate and ribonucleotides can also be found in many other foods such as: seaweed, fish sauce, ripe tomatoes, parmesan cheese, shiitake mushrooms, kombu seaweed, soy sauce, roasted meat, and even human breast milk.

History of MSG

MSG is a common flavor enhancer that is used in many different cuisines. MSG stands for monosodium glutamate, and it’s a sodium salt of glutamic acid. It was first isolated from seaweed by Japanese researcher Kikunae Ikeda in 1908 while he was looking for an umami taste which he found in the seaweed kelp (kombu). He called this “umami” or savory taste “Ajinomoto”, meaning “taste of substance”. MSG adds to foods what chefs call “fifth flavor,” but what scientists call umami, the savory/salty/sweet taste that enhances other flavors present in food.

Controversy of MSG

As an artificial food additive, MSG has been subjected to much scrutiny throughout the years. Some people argue that msg is bad because it can cause things like headaches or allergic reactions. However, MSG allergy, also called hypersensitivity, tends to be very rare, and most people do not have a reaction to msg. I don’t like to take detours into medical topics too much. Just know that the MSG in your homemade kimchi is a perfectly normal byproduct of fermentation!

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