In today’s health-conscious world, everybody wants to know exactly what’s in the food they eat. And that is no bad thing. MSG has long been something that people are keen to avoid where possible. Does Indian food have MSG? Today we will take a look at Monosodium Glutamate, tell you what it is and whether you’ll find it in curry or not…
Provided you make or order a freshly cooked curry, there is a high chance that it does not contain MSG. The exception is ready meals and tinned or jarred Indian ingredients, some of which will contain MSG. Your best bet to avoid MSG is to only order fresh food or make a curry yourself.
What is MSG?
MSG is short for Monosodium Glutamate. It is a food additive designed to increase the taste and flavour of certain dishes. On its own, it doesn’t really taste like much. In fact, it is almost like a really weak tasting salt.
However, it gives more depth when added to other foods and accentuates flavours. It is primarily used to bring out the best in savoury dishes.
MSG looks very similar to salt. It comprises fine white crystals that can be commercially bought in small pots and jars. While it does occur naturally in certain foods like cheese and tomatoes, soy sauce and mushrooms, the additive is usually man-made and mass-produced.
MSG is what we would refer to as an ‘E’ Number. It’s designated as E621. You’ll often see this number feature in the ingredients lists on the back of tin cans, jarred foods and ready meals. Speaking of spotting it in a list of ingredients, MSG goes by a few names. Here are some of the other names for MSG that you might see it referred to on the back of packets and food packages: -
- Sodium Glutamate
- Glutamic Acid
- MSG Monohydrate
- Tasting Powder
- Sodium Glutamate Monohydrate
- Flavour Enhancer
- Yeast extract
There are many more variations of the above and some differences based on the local language.
Do Indian chefs or Indian curries tend to use MSG?
No, not really.
Does Indian Food Have MSG?
Indian cuisine, particularly from takeaways, doesn’t have MSG added as part of the cooking process in most cases. If chefs want to increase the intensity of taste, they tend to add more of a certain ingredient, be it chilli, ginger, garlic, or powdered curry spices.
In your average everyday takeaway curry, it is highly unlikely that there will be much MSG if any at all. There may be a little that sneaks in, but this tends to be the naturally occurring variety instead of being deliberately added, as in Chinese cuisine.
There are a few exceptions if you are really trying to avoid MSG. However, it should be noted that the quantities of MSG are really tiny and are practically unavoidable as part of the normal cooking process.
Is MSG Bad for You?
While MSG is generally considered unhealthy, and people try to avoid it, it has been classified as safe by the US Food and Drug Administration. It has also been approved for use in Europe in limited quantities. Therefore it isn’t thought to be harmful.
There are reports, albeit often anecdotally, that MSG can cause various health issues, both in the short term and in the long term.
A condition known as ‘Chinese restaurant syndrome’ has been presented in several cases where people suffered from throat swelling and an itchy feeling all over their body after eating (Chinese) food made with MSG. Other symptoms could include: -
- Irregular heartbeats
- Chest pain
- Hot sweats and flushes
- Numbness in certain parts of the body
However, it would appear that these cases are rare. The above could have also been caused by other factors (such as food allergies) in most instances.
So, no need to worry about MSG unduly.
There have since been very detailed studies on MSG, and the conclusion was that in the relatively small amounts of MSG found in food, there was little to no risk to human health
What’s a Healthy Limit for MSG?
It is important to remember that MSG is a type of sodium or salt, if you prefer. Too much salt is bad and can cause health problems if eaten in large quantities. As a general rule, the FDA recommends that anything over 3 grams of MSG per day could be problematic.
As a general rule, they also recommend that a typical serving of around 0.5 grams of MSG should keep you on the safe side.
What Foods Are High in MSG?
There are plenty of foods that contain MSG. But the vast majority of them won’t appear on your local Indian takeaway menu, at least, not deliberately.
There are two ways MSG can get into your food. Either naturally, as a by-product of the food itself, or by being added during the cooking process. Here are some of the foods that have MSG content, divided by each type: -
Foods that Naturally Contain MSG
- Seafood, such as anchovies, mackerel and oysters
- Meat, including chicken and cured meats such as ham
- Fermented sauces, such as fish sauce and soy sauce
- Nuts, such as almonds and cashews
- Vegetables, such as mushrooms, broccoli and potatoes
Foods That May Have MSG Added
- Stock cubes or bouillon
- Meat or flavour rubs
- Frozen meals or TV dinners
- Tinned soups
- Tinned vegetables
- Processed meats
- Condiments such as ketchup, sauces and dressings
- Dried foods, such as noodles
The good news is that the vast majority of the above aren’t used in cooking Indian cuisine, and if they are, they are used in very small quantities.
Do Any Ingredients Used in Curry Have MSG?
Remember above when I talked about exceptions sneaking in?
This is how it could happen.
Here are a few examples based on my own research of ingredients lists provided on the Tesco website. There’s also a quick table to show how much MSG each ingredient contains that you’d typically find in curry. (Source: myfitnesspal.com)
Approximate MSG per serving (200g)
Stock Cubes/Base Gravy
53mg (based on one cube making 10 portions)
650mg (In reality about 120mg) per handful
Meats, Such as Chicken
One of the things you will occasionally see in Indian curries is stock. Stock is often used to prepare base gravy, a key component of BIR curries. As a result, this might mean a little MSG is present in most curries.
Here’s the good news.
Base gravy is actually fairly sparse on flavour. Consider it the ‘blank canvas’ painted on with spices specific to each curry. As a result, it isn’t particularly laden with any strong ingredients meaning the MSG is at a really low level.
If you are a fan of curries with seafood, there is a chance there is MSG. Curries like a prawn Pathia may very well contain a little MSG.
This is naturally occurring and unavoidable. So you could really consider this MSG-free.
Nuts are an ingredient in many curries, and as we said above, they contain a little naturally occurring MSG. However, as with seafood, the amount of MSG isn’t particularly high. So you have two options. Either accept that you’ll find a natural amount in your dish or alternatively steer clear of nut-based curries.
Ok, all-purpose seasoning is a little different.
This spice is a little similar to mixed powder and is often used similarly.
Unfortunately, this is laden with MSG, which increases the taste and depth of the prepared dishes.
Some places use it, and some don’t. Most all-purpose seasonings do contain MSG so if you want to avoid it, be sure to ask before you order.
Ok, this isn’t an ingredient as such, but it isn’t uncommon to find Bombay mix served on tables at Indian restaurants. As with lots of potato chips and cracker-based snacks, this crunchy treat does contain MSG.
Does Indian food have MSG? Perhaps a little, but it will rarely be intentionally added. Instead, it is more likely that any MSG present is in natural ingredients. In fact, curry is almost always prepared completely from fresh. So, it’s a good choice if you want to avoid MSG. Want to know how you can make sure? It’s really easy to make your own curry. Check my curry from scratch guide right here.