Vietnamese Pho With No Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)? Sure You Want It That Way?

We call it monosodium glutamate or just sodium glutamate. The Japanese invented (found it in nature actually) and call it umami, for "good flavor" or "good taste."MSG in red cup

Many people have problems with consuming monosodium glutamate, or MSG, in their foods. Chinese cuisine and many other restaurant foods are notorious for having lots of MSG in them. Restaurant pho is no different. In fact MSG use in many pho restaurants is so prominent and unmistakable that you can literally taste it instead of the flavorful pho broth that it should be. While MSG exists naturally around us and its use is considered "safe" by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA,) the benefits or ill effects that it brings to human diners (and pho zealots!) remain quite controversial. We each have our own judgement, tolerance, and reaction to MSG but to get a broader understanding of its impact on our culinary experience, I've asked a few culinary industry masters to share their views on MSG and how they feel it should be used in our daily lives.

Pho broth in potsHere are some views on monosodium glutamate from 7 food industry experts. Five of them have extensive culinary experience in Asian foods, the other 2  brings to the "table" (no pun intended) a clear Western viewpoints of MSG use. At least one is a food scientist, and many are respected authors, educators and publishers in their own right. I point this out because, in my opinion, the discussion on MSG cannot omit the differentiation between western and eastern cooking philosophies. In fact, such differences may just explain why MSG receives such notoriety sometimes.

In alphabetical order, they are:

I hope you will find their comments and viewpoints interesting and educational as I did. We are all humans and have our own biases and personal preferences, but insights from professionals in their own fields like these on a semi-controversial subject like MSG is a worthwhile read and definitely a learning experience. You will find both extreme and more moderate points of view on this thing we call MSG or umami. My own notes or clarification, if any, are added in brackets [...] to the end of the experts' individual statements.

1. What are your views on MSG and its use in food preparation in general? Was its creation a blessing or curse to the culinary world?

Ajinomoto MSG 1lb bagDonna Bauck. Both a blessing AND a curse. As we all know many people are sensitive to it. In the “corporate” food world it is often banned. Corporations spend a great deal of time and money finding other ways to boost flavor, and I know some products are no longer used because they contain it. On the other hand, we all want to honor traditions AND cultures. In the case of  “America” we have often taken too many liberties in Americanizing foods. In the food industry, many of us realize we have lost the heart, soul, and flavor of many cultures' foods by doing this. What is the answer? I don’t think anyone has come up with a good one. [I think Ms. Bauck's latter point is that, in americanizing ethnic foods, we make changes to them (including taking out MSG) to the detrimental effect of the foods' authenticity and taste, which I totally agree with.]

Robert Danhi. Chef Danhi wrote passionately and extensively about the subject of MSG in his book Southeast Asian Flavors. With his permission, I'm quoting relevant paragraphs here.

... For years I’ve had an internal battle over whether to use monosodium glutamate (MSG) in my cooking. The struggle began more than a decade ago when I really began to understand Southeast Asian food. I avoided using it, since as a classically trained Western chef, I was taught it was cheating and unnecessary to achieve really good food (actually true). But the challenge is that the food I’ve loved so much when I’ve traveled tasted so different from what I would make in my kitchen stateside. I realized there was no question that the prevalent use of MSG in restaurants and by street vendors of Southeast Asia was a significant factor affecting the flavor. I have ventured into hundreds of kitchens in Southeast Asia over the past twenty years. Most use MSG in one form or another. I have decided to address what most cookbook authors avoid—the topic of monosodium glutamate...

... I do not recommend nor disapprove of its use. The reality is that a majority of the kitchens in Southeast Asia use it. In the U.S.A. “No MSG added” is a common restaurant claim. But while the cooks may not have added MSG in its pure form, they probably still use sauces that have it added at the factory. Many cooks exclaim they do not use MSG, but frankly many do not even realize that they do...

... I believe much of the modern-day use of MSG in the foods around Southeast Asia is a cost-cutting measure... ... That stated, MSG is a relative newcomer to Asian cookery, having been in use for just over one hundred years. Although I was not around two hundred years ago, I’m sure there were amazing, vibrant, flavorful foods long before MSG’s invention...

Andrea Nguyen. MSG is not a terrible thing but it’s [oftentimes] [overused] to make blah, poorly made food tasty. Umami is important in lots of Asian cooking but there are natural ways to achieve it. MSG is a chemical product. Who wants to add extra chemicals to their food? It’s not natural.

Brian Nguyen. MSG is a flavor enhancer. Until today, FDA and most, if not all, health officials from other countries have not banned of using MSG in foods. The chemical components of MSG are Sodium and Glutamic Acid. Glutamic Acid is an Amino Acid. Our body requires Amino Acid. However, our body can produce it, luckily. Without it, our foods would be very bland.

Florentina. MSG is simply not good for you. It might have been a blessing for the culinary world, but definitely a curse for me and you, the consumer.

Jay Terauchi. I don't use MSG in my cooking, unless it's an Asian packaged or canned product. I understand having to use it in processed foods, but I won't use it as a flavor enhancer.

Corinne Trang. In my Asian side of the family, we used it all the time. Some still do, but I don’t. It is unnecessary. Salt can open up your taste buds. Spices and herbs can enhance any foods, curing, heat cooking, etc... can do the same. There [are] so many ways to create beautiful flavors with fresh ingredients, why would anyone want to use MSG? It’s definitely a curse, and quite frankly it should be taken off the market.

2. How much, if any, do you use or recommend the use of MSG in any recipe?

Ajinomoto MSG nutrition factsDonna Bauck. I stay away from it as much as possible. There is no way of knowing if my customer base has sensitivity. Though I attempt to label any foods that I am aware of (just as you would for nuts,) I believe there is a growing population that does know if they are sensitive, [therefore] may steer away from foods labeled as such.

Robert Danhi. Don't use in recipes.

Andrea Nguyen. I don’t suggest using MSG in any of my recipes. I’m more intrigued by what natural glutamates do in food, how they make food taste good.

Brian Nguyen. Most food products contain naturally occured Glutamic Acid. However, during the cooking process, most of Glutamic Acid is destroyed by heat from over cooking. The amount of putting the MSG back into food varies. However, it should be much less than 1% in finished products.

Florentina. I do not use MSG in my cooking and I would never recommend it in a recipe.

Jay Terauchi. None.

Corinne Trang. Zero.

3. Are there certain dishes that you feel will always need at least some MSG?

Donna Bauck. I do not believe I am in the position to answer this. I do not use it, though I am sure I have eaten it. I have never studied the effects of a recipe with or without MSG.

Robert Danhi. [No.]

Andrea Nguyen. Nope. Some Viet people say that pho is not pho without MSG but that’s just because there is rampant use of it in pho. They are used to the ‘sweet’ flavor that MSG lends. Using yellow rock sugar makes that happen in pho broth.

Brian Nguyen. As I mentioned above, MSG is a flavor enhancer not a flavor. Most cooked dishes require MSG since it has been destroy[ed] by heat.

Florentina. Absolutely not. With all the spices we have available to us today, there is no need for MSG at all.

Jay Terauchi. I don't feel that but understand that most Asian dishes use it and that's what people know it to taste like that.

Corinne Trang. No.

4. With respect to pho, is MSG (at any quantity) an important ingredient? What about any other broths/soup dishes?

Ajinomoto MSG in small jarsDonna Bauck. Same answer as above. Additionally, though I have eaten pho, I could not answer from a cultural, or personal experience as to its importance.

Robert Danhi. Use lots of meat, enough fish sauce and long simmering to harness umami and no MSG is needed. [If you] can't afford the meat and time, add some MSG and broth will taste better.

Andrea Nguyen. See response to #3 above.

Brian Nguyen. The most important ingredient in Pho or any dishes is not MSG. MSG is not a primary ingredient. It is a secondary ingredient. It is there to enhance not to act as a flavor.

Florentina. I don't believe so. More people should try using sea salt and lots of aromatics to enhance the flavor of their meals.

Jay Terauchi. I think to give it the authentic flavor YES, otherwise I think it would lack the familiar flavor that people know.

Corinne Trang. MSG is not necessary in any food, including pho or other broths or soup dishes. Again my family has used [it] for sure, but I don’t see a good enough reason to add it to any of my meals.

5. The bottom line: would you enjoy a bowl of pho (homemade or restaurant) knowing that MSG was used?

Donna Bauck. Since I have eaten pho, in traditional settings I believe I can safely assume I have eaten it with MSG. Though, again, I believe the public needs additional education on MSG. It is one of those products that we hear (as example) may cause headaches if you are sensitive to it. No one I know wants to “risk” a headache… so though they may have eaten MSG prior, they may not know they have. Theoretically, I believe some people would shy away from a food product with this ingredient because of this.

Robert Danhi. Yes, I do here in USA and in Vietnam where most cooks use it... Sad, but they [can't] afford the pure meat/bone broth.

Andrea Nguyen. When I have pho in a restaurant, most likely there’s MSG in the broth. That’s fine and expected. What’s not fine is when there’s a ton of MSG in the broth. That’s just bad cooking.

Brian Nguyen. Whether homemade or restaurant made, MSG should be used sparingly.

Florentina. Yes I would, occasionally, but if I were given the choice between a bowl of pho made with MSG and one made without the use of MSG I would pick the latter.

Jay Terauchi. I understand that it's traditional and enjoy the flavor from the stock of bones, etc.  If the broth only had flavor from seasonings such as MSG, then No. It's a big selling point to Americans if you don't use MSG.

Corinne Trang. I would. I did when I was in Vietnam. I have when enjoying pho in a NY City’s Chinatown, because when in the company of friends, you talk about other things besides MSG! At home when I make pho, or any Asian soups, I never use it.

My take on MSG.

So there you have it. Certainly learned a lot myself. My own personal view on MSG is more moderate than many people's, and certainly more moderate than some of our culinary masters here. I myself do not get adverse effects after consuming moderate amounts of MSG, except for the normal thirstiness which comes with any sodium consumption anyway. I do agree that many food vendors overuse MSG and my level of enjoyment would drop like a brick; I don't like salt water and it's just a waste of my money actually. In any case I think the MSG controversy will continue on. What's the bottom line? I think it is this:

  • MSG is not banned simply because it is not necessarily bad for many of us, but we do have our own choice of what we consider a quality and healthy diet. Education and understanding are key.

I want to send many warm thanks to Donna Bauck, Robert Danhi, Andrea NguyenBrian Nguyen, Florentina, Jay Terauchi and Corrine Trang for participating in this roundtable discussion on MSG. You gave us valuable insights into this tough culinary subject.

Now let's go eat some pho.

Oh and please take the MSG survey below.

Will you eat pho with MSG? 1 or 2 answers.

View Results

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  1. petercuong 17 November, 2010 at 22:48 Reply

    Hi Cuong, Thank you for organizing this interesting discussion. In his book On Food and Cooking, food scientist and Curious Cook columnist in the New York Times, Harold McGee states that “[after many studies], toxicologists have concluded that MSG is a harmless ingredient for most people, even in large amounts.” Peter

  2. Cuong Huynh 18 November, 2010 at 01:09 Reply

    Hi petercuong: Good hearing from you, and thanks so much for the heads up with respect to Harold McGee. I’m sure there are tons of research out there on MSG. I’m a marketer and I think the “no MSG” sign is a restaurant’s desperate attempt to attract customers, no matter how you look at it. My only question is, why can’t we have an agreement on this strange subject.

    Anyway, here’s the article just published yesterday on the Huffington Post website, “15 Food & Cooking Myths, Busted.”

    Interestingly, here’s another article talking about MSG in pho posted today from down under titled “Pho in Sydney – applying the ‘harm’ principle to service“! Imagine that. It’s a fun read.

    And the NSW Food Authority (New South Wales) in Australia has this to say about MSG when they ask “Is it safe?

  3. sanghuynh 13 January, 2011 at 20:49 Reply

    HI Cuong, I didnt mean a link , but some one on Uyen thy cooking (on youtube)comments was saying that Quoc viet pho soup base has msg but when Uyen thy herself said there ‘s no msg in it. Im not against using it thought, FYI I cook my own pho better then ur recipe.Chao(and no M.S.G)

  4. Cuong Huynh 18 January, 2011 at 23:12 Reply

    Hi sanghuynh: I guess on YouTube (and anywhere else for that matter,) anyone can voice an opinion on MSG. I would take it with a grain of salt (no pun intended) but the fact of the matter is MSG got and is still getting a bad rap in my view. If you really look into MSG with an open mind, I think you’ll find no conclusive evidence that it is a bad ingredient. The FDA has no problem with it. And if you haven’t already, check out this post “Vietnamese Pho With No Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)? Sure You Want It That Way?.”

    With respect to your pho cooking, I have no doubt yours may be better than many recipes. I have no recipe of my own. I just share with others what I think are good. If you have a good one, would you care to share it?

  5. Jake 24 July, 2011 at 16:31 Reply

    MSG is a DISHONEST way of selling foods. This is the fundamental reason why I don’t support restaurants that use MSG.

    MSG is known as a ‘taste enhancer’. The true and honest way of cooking PHO is the old fashion way: slow cook of bones and herbs – not cutting corners by using MSG!

    In many ways, those businesses that make money from selling MSG-loaded pho are insulting their own ancestors and the very culture that they claim to belong to. Shame on them!

    Boycott all restaurants that use MSG!

    I know several popular restaurants in Los Angeles areas are using loads of MSG but they profit greatly from doing that. Among them is Golden Deli, Saigon Flavors, Pho 79, and many others.

  6. Cuong Huynh 24 July, 2011 at 18:04 Reply

    Hi Jake: Like many, I think some restaurants will add MSG to kick up the taste and by doing so would reduce their other ingredient costs. But would you know that in the “old fashion way” cooks also added some MSG? Actually people in my own family and many others’ families used MSG in our own cooking as well. In my opinion, businesses will be judged by the sales that they can achieve because the customers will vote with their wallets. Regardless of what restaurants do with their foods, as long as it is not illegal by local law’s standards, restaurants will probably continue to use MSG, if not in pho then in many other dishes and from many other natural and packaged ingredients.

  7. peroki 9 February, 2012 at 11:06 Reply

    I grew up with MSG in recipes – my grandmother and mother used it. In fact my mother still does. I don’t consider it an “evil”, although I don’t use it and will choose a product that doesn’t have it as an ingredient. However, I have tried replicating some soups my grandmother and mother made and there is always a little something missing in “umami” – I wonder if it is the MSG? In all the pho restaurants I’ve been to, there is one that has an outstanding broth (I’m into the nuances of flavors). I’ll check next time if they use MSG… BTW, thanks for your excellent site!

  8. Cuong Huynh 12 February, 2012 at 14:01 Reply

    peroki: thanks for your comments. I personally think MSG does have its place in cooking. Like everything else, moderation is key. It is not reasonable to expect a diet with absolutely zero fat; a little ok. So the same goes with MSG. For those who say MSG is really bad for you, they are just stating their personal opinions. I wouldn’t be surprised if you find your mother using MSG. Oh the horror! The horror!

  9. Yen Nguyen 5 April, 2012 at 15:07 Reply

    Hi Cuong,

    I was doing a little research on pho restaurants and I happened to come across your site. It is very interesting. Since you are the pho master, I am in need of some advice. I am planning to open a pho restaurant soon and am quite lost on what sort of a kitchen layout I will need to maintain proficiency in regards to pho preparation. For example: the equipments needed, utilized space, # of kitchen staff, and the most proficient way to prepare and store pho in a restaurant capacity.

    Thank you,

    Yen Nguyen

  10. ray 12 April, 2012 at 05:30 Reply

    Hi Cuong,

    I would also be interested in hearing your thoughts on Yen Nguyen’s question. I have also been doing research in this area as well and would love to get some ideas from you.


  11. Cuong Huynh 13 April, 2012 at 00:53 Reply

    Hi Ray: Thanks for your interest in learning more about the business of pho restaurant. I have to respect those who wish to open their own pho restaurant business that their communication with me is of a private matter. This is why I always reply directly to inquirers on this subject and I do hope you understand that such discussion is not for public consumption.

    Having that said, I personally would love to discuss and have no problem with discussing what Yen Nguyen was inquiring about on a generic level. I can certainly talk about pho kitchen operation, preparation, equipment, staffing, ingredients sourcing, etc. and in the process share with you lots of interesting information about the challenges and rewards of running your own pho restaurant.

    So if you are thinking about having your own pho restaurant then I will communicate with you directly. If you would like to learn more on a generic level, then I’ll share with you in my next blog post or in my reply to you here.

    Thanks again for visiting.

  12. Julie 17 July, 2012 at 11:29 Reply

    Not everyone gets the negative reactions from MSG, but I do and it’s ugly. Either I have to take a bunch of medication (imitrex, aspirin) at the start of the meal or I am basically suffering from what feels like a sudden flu about an hour after eating. Fever, chills, sweating, vomiting, horrible headache and body aches. With medication it’s less suffering but fatigue and mild fever usually happen.

    Everyone I have met who does react to MSG has reactions are pretty severe.

    So while the argument of it’s a flavor enhancer is great -it’s a feeling of panic and dread that you may be eating something with MSG in it. It’s like expecting food poisoning. So as “safe” as it may be for most, it’s a nightmare if you are sensitive.

  13. Cuong Huynh 20 July, 2012 at 15:19 Reply

    Hi Julie: Thank you for sharing your own negative experience with MSG reaction. I’m sure many of us, me included, do not fully understand this nightmare because we do not experience it ourselves. And many times we take things for granted because we do not have such problem to worry about, save for some mild reactions. Your story will help us, at least me, to think twice the next time we talk about MSG, or at least to keep in the back of my mind that there are people out there suffering from eating this stuff. I have learned quite a bit about gluten-free foods and the people who require a gluten-free diet, but still have more to learn. In Asia, and elsewhere too, MSG is the cheapest and easiest way to get that extra kick of flavor in one’s food so it is popular. And when you look at many packaged foods in the U.S., they have MSG as well. So yes, wise advice is to read the label, or just ask before buying.

  14. David 2 September, 2012 at 05:55 Reply

    I’ll have to disagree with some of your guests. There hasn’t been any reliable scientific studies that would prove MSG as being bad for your heath. I’m sure there are some people who are sensitive to it, but the chemical composition is exactly as it occurs in nature. I don’t really see a difference between MSG and using salt of sugar which is chemically processed from nature as well.

    Of course, there are some people who may have allergic reactions to it, but that’s like every other food.

    My experience is that an asian restaurant that advertises “No MSG” usually aren’t very good.

  15. Cuong Huynh 4 September, 2012 at 08:31 Reply

    Hi David: I agree with your viewpoints. Using MSG in your diet or not is a personal preference, and until proven scientifically otherwise, it is just getting a bad rap. As you can see from the interview, professionals in the industry do have strong feelings about MSG use.

    I think the “No MSG” being used by restaurants is really a marketing ploy to attract new client segments, like “gluten-free” or “we use only vegetable oil.” These will come and go depending on what hot new wave they want to ride at a given time. And of course, without MSG, which is a flavor enhancer, restaurants have to find other ways to boost flavors, and depending on their knowledge on how to do this or maybe even being too cheap to spend more time and effort to give their foods more flavors, and the result is as you say. On the other hand, I’ve eaten some delicious foods with no MSG, so doing it right is the key.

  16. Vu 27 December, 2012 at 14:21 Reply

    Although this article’s intent was to get the unbiased opinions about MSG from these food industry experts, I do not feel that it did the job, authors like Andrea and Corinne would never be caught condoning or lending their support for the use of MSG. It just wouldn’t be appropriate considering their audience is the Western populace. Brian Nguyen on the other hand provides more sincere comments regarding it’s use because his profession is not reliant on a steadfast opposition about an ingredient viewed so “negatively” by mainstream society. Those who love “authentic” asian food and eat it a lot, but disavow MSG, are probably the ones prefer to eat out. That way they don’t have to feel the guilt of purposely putting in that scoop of MSG in their food.

    Yes too much MSG is not good, so is too much sugar, salt, butter, lard… etc.

  17. Cuong Huynh 27 December, 2012 at 14:44 Reply

    Hi Vu: This article was written to present different opinions, and not to present “unbiased opinions” as you described. In fact an opinion is always biased because it is its definition. I wrote “Here are some views on monosodium glutamate from 7 food industry experts … I point this out because, in my opinion, the discussion on MSG cannot omit the differentiation between western and eastern cooking philosophies. In fact, such differences may just explain why MSG receives such notoriety sometimes.

    I also answered peroki above with the following: “I personally think MSG does have its place in cooking. Like everything else, moderation is key. It is not reasonable to expect a diet with absolutely zero fat; a little ok. So the same goes with MSG. For those who say MSG is really bad for you, they are just stating their personal opinions.” It’s a touchy subject for some, but for me, I do have my own opinion as well, which I stated throughout the articles and replies to comments.

    Your points about the the experts’ opinions is well taken and I agree with you completely. Brian Nguyen is knowledgeable and does give sincere personal views. He tells it like it is.

  18. mike 22 January, 2013 at 23:28 Reply

    It is interesting that people believe what they want to when it comes to food. Although, food scientist in the 70’s acknowledged the head ache associated with MSG, neuroendocrinology has enlightened us further as to the real dangers. A preminent MD and research scientist Dr Russell Blaylock MD has provided extensive research on the excitotoxic effects of MSG, its cousin Aspartame and the myriad flavor enhancers the industry uses to enduce abnormal, addictive eating patters while their business associates in the medical, surgical model will sell you the treatments necessary after a lifetime of eating MSG laced products. Excitotoxicity is experienced by your neurons in response to a flood of glutamate and aspartic acids if they are not digested slowly in a whole food. What then happens is that neurons fire uncontrolably, dose dependent, until they exhaust and die. THIS IS A FORM OF ACUTE BRAIN DEATH. The effects are wide spread in the brain due to the fact that glutamate receptors are so common for neurotransmission that many maladies can arise from over consumption. Lou Gerighs Dx, Parkinsons like syndromes, migranes, blindness, glucoma, to name a few. If you care and would like a counter point to MSG is OK thinking, read some excepts from Excitotoxins The Taste That Kills to familiarize youself and protect your loved ones who may be unsavy to this discussion. Also what everyou do stay far far away from Nutrasweet, aspartame and its spin off chemicals if you value your health. Happy eating;>

  19. Cuong Huynh 23 January, 2013 at 01:07 Reply

    Mike: Wow, I won’t even claim to have enough knowledge to understand or time to research in any depth what you wrote there to either agree or dispute, but I do sense that your point may be at one extreme end of the MSG spectrum. As far as I understand it, many international and national bodies for the safety of food additives consider MSG safe for human consumption as a flavor enhancer. I will leave your comment up for others to read and discuss.

  20. Ryan 22 May, 2013 at 09:09 Reply

    “MSG is not banned simply because it is not necessarily bad for many of us, but we do have our own choice of what we consider a quality and healthy diet. Education and understanding are key.”

    Seriously? It is funny that you say “it is not necessarily bad for many of us” and then go on to say that “education and understanding are key.” MSG is an neruotoxin (excitotoxin). It has been proven that it shrivels and kills brain cells in the hypothalamus. It does this by exciting the brain cells to fire uncontrollably until they die. It has been directly linked to many horrible things. I’m not trying to sound like a jerk, but if you truly did the research on MSG, you may have a different opinion.

  21. Cuong Huynh 22 May, 2013 at 15:27 Reply

    @Ryan: Thanks for sharing your thoughts on MSG. I have done enough research and I stand by my statement “it is not necessarily bad for many of us” and “education and understanding is key.” I am not saying I or many others love eating foods with MSG or we look for foods with MSG. Far from it. But I know I and the vast majority of us who do consume at least some form of MSG (including the naturally occurring ones) will not have major health problems or die directly from consuming some MSG. We’ve read the reports, yes, and we know we’ll probably die from some other causes before having to worry about MSG affecting our brains.

    Of course for those who do have problems consuming any MSG, then please don’t consume it. Now it’s raining outside and cold, I’ll just go enjoy a bowl of beef pho, MSG or not.

  22. V Nguyen 11 September, 2013 at 22:12 Reply

    My hubby and I just opened a pho restaurant. Our broth is so inconsistent. We cook from bones and use no msg. I want a more flavorful, more consistent, faster method. Any hints? Should we use msg?

  23. Cuong Huynh 11 September, 2013 at 22:48 Reply

    @V Nguyen: Congrats on opening your own pho restaurant. Running a restaurant is not easy and I wish you best of luck. Your question sounds simple but in fact it is very complex. One major reason pho restaurants fail is because of problem with their broths. First off, I hope you’ve tested your broth making method enough before opening to ensure you produce a good broth all the time, THEN have quality control measures in place to maintain the quality you want; that’s what your customers expect from your restaurant. Practice is what it takes to produce consistent and quality broths. Secondly, I’m sure MSG has nothing to do with quality and consistency of your pho broth. Should you use MSG? If you’re looking for quality and consistent broth, then the answer is no, MSG alone won’t help you achieve those qualities. Should you use MSG at all? The answer then depends on how you want to run your business. Thirdly, if you use bones then I also expect that you have a way to get the same amount of “flavor” out of the bones each and every time.

    In any case, without knowing your recipe and cooking procedure, I can only make general suggestions which I’m sure won’t help you much. If you need more detailed help, please contact me for a pho consultation.

  24. Airwolfe 19 October, 2013 at 19:17 Reply

    “The FDA says that there is no science to indicate that MSG is unsafe. That is a blatant lie. All one need do is to access the Medline retrieval service at a medical school library, a major public library, or through the Internet. Do a “keyword search,” requesting abstracts, using the words “glutamic acid” in combination with the words “learning disabilities.” Then do additional searches in which you combine “glutamic acid” with such words as “obesity,” “brain lesions,” “blood brain barrier,” “placental barrier,” “migraine headache,” “tachycardia,” “asthma,” “seizures,” “neurodegenerative disease,” “retina,” “schizophrenia,” “hormones,” “amyotrophic lateral sclerosis,” and “multiple sclerosis.” Also, access the Psychological Abstracts retrieval system and combine the words “glutamic acid” with “behavior.” Long before you have finished your search, you will wonder what the FDA is thinking when they continue a GRAS (generally recognized as safe) designation for MSG. You may also wonder how the EPA can allow free glutamic acid to be sprayed on agricultural crops.”

  25. Cuong Huynh 19 October, 2013 at 20:38 Reply

    @Airwolfe: I don’t believe anyone or any visitor to this website ever said or advocated that “The FDA says that there is no science to indicate that MSG is unsafe” as you claimed, so there is no blatant lie here. If you feel that strongly about the subject then maybe take the case to the FDA directly. Additionally this is probably not a forum to debate about EPA actions either. But thanks for stopping by and voice your views.

  26. Thy 15 December, 2013 at 06:29 Reply

    Yup and why don’t we look up scientific papers on salt or sugar and some of those diseases and mental illnesses. There is so much on msg, if you search with a bad frame of mind you are sure to find something. It’s the same vice versa though. I also believe moderation is the key… I can assure you my Nana’s been eating msg every day in her life (just like salt n sugar) and at 86 is everything but brain fried lol. Still ruling over her 12 healthy children. 😉 I don’t use heaps of msg of put it in everyting I cook but I certainly use it. I cook my pho with many bones and quality meats and I will stand by the pot for 6 hours straight at minimum heat to extract the most flavor… And I still add some glutamate just for the right taste. The taste that feels like home and comfort. And after almost 30 years of pho eating I can safely say… I still have enough brain cells to finish my psych degree. ;P Lucky me! Lol

  27. Cuong Huynh 21 December, 2013 at 00:09 Reply

    @Thy: Yes I agree. Moderation is key, just like many other foods and beverages that we consume everyday. Not to defend MSG, but I think it has received a bad rap due to its own circumstances and greedy marketers. People have allergies and bad reactions to many different types of food, not just MSG. When some customers complain about MSG’s ill effects on them (real or imagined,) ingredient producers and restaurant operators jumped on the bandwagon to serve MSG-free products, and the snowball began.

  28. JohnN 31 May, 2014 at 09:59 Reply

    I believe you can habituate yourself to a daily dose of msg without apparent I’ll effect. But then I can say that about a lot of things nicotine, sugar, alcohol, caffeine, etc.
    Think of glutamine (glutamic acid <– msg) and dopamine as the yang and yin pair of neural transmitters that you would like keep in balance; one excites the other promote calmness.
    I value my mental state enough not to jeopardize its operation. We used to cook with a moderate amount of it but no more. Ingesting msg now gives me sense of lethargy (the brain compensates by releasing more dopamine?), feverish and thirst .
    It may induce seizures in some epileptics.
    Only my $.02.

  29. Cuong Huynh 31 May, 2014 at 12:23 Reply

    @JohnN: I agree with your $0.02. I’m sure many of us do not discount the fact that many people have problems with MSG. On the other hand, there are a few billions people around the world who do not have ill effects when consuming MSG on a daily basis; otherwise Ajinomoto wouldn’t be still in business earning almost $12.5B in 2013 (they’ve been around since 1909). Like many things in this world, there is no black and white, and people do have a choice when cooking at home. In the case of MSG, personal regulation is the way to go just like alcohol or anything else. And if you know you don’t take well to MSG then just don’t do it. With respect to when eating out, restaurants who use MSG will just have to lose that part of consumers who are allergic to it. Restaurant operators make tough decisions everyday, and not serving those who are MSG-allergic may be one of those choices. Personally, I think those argue against MSG to the extremity are just, well, too extreme. Thanks for your input JohnN.

  30. Leon 14 July, 2014 at 13:49 Reply

    MSG makes me ill with diarreha and headache. If you use it I won’t eat your food, obviously. Please let me know, especially if I’ve asked in the past, you said no, and have started using it. And don’t lie about it because you think it doesn’t matter.

    It’s easy for people who tolerate it to say it’s okay. If it made them sick they’d change their tune.

  31. Cuong Huynh 14 July, 2014 at 14:04 Reply

    @Leon: Whoa hold on there, pardner Leon. Not sure what you meant with your statement “Please let me know, especially if I’ve asked in the past, you said no, and have started using it. And don’t lie about it because you think it doesn’t matter.” I’m sorry you have problems with MSG but you may have received such suggestion elsewhere and not here at I always advice people to find out what they are served then practice moderation, which is the best policy.

  32. nhatrang 13 May, 2015 at 19:33 Reply

    I do not use MSG with pho, and it is consistent any time I make it. The art of making good food is fresh ingredients , it is expensive , but it is better for your health. My husband has very bad allergy if MSG is used in the cooking

  33. Cuong Huynh 14 May, 2015 at 15:33 Reply

    @nhatrang: yes obviously if you have known allergic conditions to MSG then the proper thing to do is not use it if cooking at home, or ask about it before eating in a restaurant. The awareness may be higher in North America, but people don’t make a big deal about MSG in Vietnam, at least not yet. If one is allergic to MSG and goes a pho shop in Vietnam, he/she should be extra careful in finding out.

    And you are right, pho doesn’t need added MSG to taste good, as in any other foods. You can definitely make good pho without it. The problem is greedy restaurateurs, or restaurateurs who don’t know better, that do not care about their customers and use an excessive amount of MSG. All they care about is making money and use lots of MSG to enhance their less than perfect pho.

  34. DDX 29 June, 2018 at 08:19 Reply

    I’m sure that I will convince no one, but actual MSG sensitivity is virtually non-existent. But please don’t take my word for it–research the SOUND, scientific studies on the internet (and ignore the apocryphal stories which mean almost nothing.)

    • Cuong Huynh 2 September, 2018 at 11:34 Reply

      @DDX: Thanks for leaving your comments. Not sure why you thought you “will convince no one”, but I’m sure there are people who will agree and others disagree with you. It really depends.

      Personally, I’d consider the statement “actual MSG sensitivity is virtually non-existent” a pretty extreme one. While they may be in the minority, there are people who are truly allergic to MSG, like there are people who are allergic to other food ingredients.

      With that said, symptoms such as thirstiness or headache after eating a meal may be falsely diagnosed as attributable MSG. The fact is, eating ANY salty thing will also cause thirstiness, and people do get headaches all the time that has nothing to do with MSG. So MSG may be conveniently getting a bum rap. My point is: each individual should be fair to assess his/her own real reaction to MSG just like with reaction to peanuts or shellfish/seafood or egg, etc., and not just make generalization about MSG.

      With respect to things you read or research on the Internet, one must assume that an individual knows how to do a fair and complete research; be able to compare, contrast, and make a judgement; and then make an intelligent conclusion. Only then will a meaningful understanding of the subject matter be acquired. I don’t disagree with what you wrote. It’s just that we are creatures of habits and beliefs, and not everyone has an open mind.

      In any case, it would help if you’d shared sources you deem reliable instead of just telling people to “ignore the apocryphal stories which mean almost nothing”. This way everyone learns and we all can have a more meaningful discussion.

  35. Joe smoe 2 August, 2019 at 17:31 Reply

    I haven’t read every comment, just wanted to say I have such a strong reaction to msg. I am half Vietnamese and grew up with msg. My sensitivity as a youth presented itself with skin related allergies, but after puberty my reaction has changed. Every time I have msg, even if I only eat half my meal, I pass out for 1-2hrs and it’s hard to come out of a “msg coma” …I have to consume something sweet to clear the fog. My reaction is hit or miss since I go to various Asian restaurants and there is no telling what quantities of msg it’s used….. So when it hits me I’m like f**ck when I wake up…. All references that state their is no evidence of it’s harm is bs. I never have this reaction eating any other foods and I have a very diverse palette.

    • Cuong Huynh 3 August, 2019 at 22:14 Reply

      @Joe smoe: Thanks for sharing your story. If you really are allergic to msg then I wonder why you risk continuing going to Asian restaurants? Of course, almost all commercial restaurants have msg in one form or another among their ingredients, both processed and natural occurring, but Asian restaurants are notorious about overusing it. I think you should be a lot more careful about which restaurants you choose to eat.

      • Sandra 21 March, 2024 at 22:11 Reply

        You can’t be that insensitive really.
        MSG causes me to have diarrhea really bad. One of my friends actually goes into shock and lands in the hospital. It can cause migraines and even some form of bowl cancer. Do your homework PLEASE

        • Cuong Huynh 22 March, 2024 at 11:40 Reply

          @Sandra: Thanks for your viewpoint and sharing of your and your friend’s experiences. Not sure I understand your statement about being insensitive. You probably misunderstood the point so I’ll further expand on what was said. Firstly, people having problems with MSG are not being discounted in any way in my messages. The fact is people do have all kinds of problems with certain foods, and MSG and wheat are just two that can cause problems. There are many more others. This is why the medical professionals lately strongly advise that one should be careful about your food intake, both at home and in restaurants if he/she has allergic reaction to a particular food ingredients. If you have strong reaction to MSG then my suggestions still stand, that is, avoid restaurants that use MSG and choose carefully which restaurants you patronize. Bonus: an additional layer of safety once you are ready to order your food is to inform the server of your conditions/requirements, inquire about the ingredients in the dish you’re about to order, and make sure they honor your request. In the end, it’s a smart policy to always be aware of what one eats, and not accept whatever restaurants push on customers.

  36. Geoff Oosterhoudt 26 July, 2021 at 01:31 Reply

    It’s obvious that none of the experts above actually has a sensitivity to MSG, yeast extract, or autolyzed yeast extract. Those who say that it “may cause headaches” have obviously never had a migraine, because a migraine is not “just a headache.” It’s hard enough for those of us with food sensitivities and allergies to find food at the grocery store when we have to become biochemists to figure out what is going to make us sick. Downplaying the effect that various chemicals can have on humans only makes things worse. For that reason I never buy anything that has “flavor” or “natural flavor” as an ingredient, because I know that that is where the company is hiding its MSG or yeast extract. “Glutamic acid is an alpha-amino acid that is used in the biosynthesis of proteins by almost all living beings. In humans, it is non-essential, meaning the body will synthesize it. It is also an excitatory neurotransmitter in the vertebrate nervous system, which is actually the most abundant.” People keep wondering why cancer seems to be growing in the worldwide population even with “healthier foods and food production.” I suspect that, 50 years from now, scientists will know for sure exactly why, and that it will be because all of the additives, artificial and “natural” that the food industry has been subjecting the public to since the 1950s. You may use organic yeast extract and call it “all natural.” Sulfuric acid is “all natural,” as is lead, but you would not use either in your cooking, at least knowingly. Because of what professional chefs and the food industry have done in the last 75 years, there are very few places I can trust to eat. I still have to have Botox for my migraines as well as breakthrough treatments at home, even while being extra vigilant. So don’t tell me that chemical additives are something necessary in our food. That is just utter bullshit. Chinese civilization is over 4000 years old, yet MSG was only discovered about 100 years ago. Overzealous cooks don’t give me migraines… Chemicals do. One of these days Congress will actually enforce the Pure Food and Drug Act.

    • Cuong Huynh 26 July, 2021 at 11:12 Reply

      @Geoff Oosterhoudt: Thanks for sharing your view points. Just to respond to some of your points:
      – “may cause headaches”: All this means is that not everyone gets headaches from MSG. The same is true for when someone says it “may cause migraine”. This is a fact. And as a medical doctor may say to a patient, it’s best to know what you are allergic to, and educate yourself to choose the right food for your body. I don’t think anyone in this article is downplaying anything, and it’s also true that you don’t have to have an illness in order to help treat others that have it.
      – I applaud you for knowing what’s good and not good for you, and choose the right food for your body. It sounds like you do have an extreme condition that requires special attention on a regular basis. It’s good to be skeptical of what’s being served out there in public restaurants.
      – On the other hand, I do take issue with your statement “So don’t tell me that chemical additives are something necessary in our food. That is just utter bullshit.” I guarantee you no one associated with this article is telling you chemical additives are necessary in food. You probably acquired this information from elsewhere.
      – I also disagree with this statement: “Overzealous cooks don’t give me migraines… Chemicals do.” Fact is restaurateurs, chefs and cooks should/must know what they are serving to the public and the sources of their ingredients. They 100% have a choice of what ingredients to include in their offerings. There are only 2 types of restaurateurs/chefs/cooks though: 1) those who know what they are doing (either good or bad, deliberately), and 2) those who don’t know what they are doing. Either way you can’t always blame the ingredients they use.

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