Months ago while having lunch at a Korean restaurant in Oakland, California, I noticed some skinny long crystals in a container of salt at the table. It was MSG mixed with salt. I asked my lunch companion, Linda (a Korea-born American) about the seasoning combination. Her response was, “Eh, there’s MSG in lots of Korean food. It’s everywhere.”
Then I received several care packages from Yun Ho Rhee, a Seoul-based friend and frequent visitor to this site. Yun Ho was traveling to the U.S. and volunteered to pick up some Korean ingredients that he thought I’d find interesting. “Have you had MSG salt? It’s kind of good,” he remarked in an email. Yun Ho uses regular salt too.
I’m not one to use chemically produced MSG in my cooking. Naturally-occurring glutamates can be found in ingredients such as soy sauce, fish sauce, ripe tomato, dried kelp (kombu), and dried shiitake mushroom, for example. But heck, Yun Ho had tucked a bag of the white granules into one of his care packages and I had to try it out. I found it to be tasty on its own, rather savory sweet.
There was only Korean Hangul (above, left) characters on the plastic packaging and Yun Ho explained that the Korean MSG salt was comprised of 90% salt and 10% MSG. Made by Daesang in Korea, the salt is coated with MSG. At the Oakland restaurant, regular salt was simply mixed with regular MSG.
The funny thing about both of the Korean MSG salts was that I didn’t taste the saltiness when I sprinkled them onto foods. They had a subtle effect on food. I kept putting more on, perhaps because of the effect of the MSG, or because the salt just wasn’t as salty as I am used to. We train our palates to react in certain ways over time.
I found myself using more of the MSG salt when I used it during the cooking process. It’s probably better as a finishing salt for sprinkling on right before serving or at the table for guests to help themselves.
Using the Korean salt led me to pick up a bag of Taiwanese Mushroom Seasoning (above, right), sold at Chinese and Southeast Asian markets. Manufacturer Po Lo Ku Trading touts the seasoning as a substitute for MSG and chicken essence, which many people use in their cooking. “No salt or monosodium glutamate is needed with this product is used,” it claims. There’s Chinese, English, and Vietnamese language on the packaging, signaling that they market to a broad audience of cooks.
The mushroom “MSG” is made of mushroom powder, salt, mushroom extract, calcium powder, and B (Vitamin B?). Whereas the white grains of MSG salt looks just like salt, the beige grains of mushroom seasoning remind me of malt powder but the flavor is nothing like it!
I’ve had the mushroom MSG in the cupboard for months and every once in a while, when I’m making a quick noodle soup in which no broth is used, I’ll add some of the mushroom seasoning to the water (it usually contains some sautéed onion and other vegetables).
The effect is remarkably good, better than the asparagus-based fake MSG that I wrote about earlier. You sense that it’s not full of the chicken-y goodness of a long-simmered broth. Hey, it’s a semi-homemade way to cook. For example, I often have dried Chinese egg noodles on hand for a fast meal. The noodles are ‘instant’ but they don’t come with ‘flavoring’ packages, which basically contain MSG, salt, and sugar. My work around is the mushroom seasoning. The drawback is that the stuff comes in 500g (17 ounce) bags, which is a lot to use. Thank god, the manufacturer says that the seasoning lasts for 3 years!
Because I had so much, I gave some to my mom, who uses a touch of MSG in her food. She looked at the white and beige seasonings with skepticism. Hopefully, she’ll give them a whirl but she’s a diehard traditionalist. Just the old-fashioned MSG, please!
As for me, I like both of these flavor-enhancing seasonings but they won’t become go-to seasonings in my pantry. They are interesting and fun to try, however, as it’s good to understand how other people cook and flavor their food.
Any experience with Korean MSG salt or Taiwanese mushroom seasoning? Share them below.
- MSG, Fake MSG & Umami: How bad is MSG and what is umami?
- Chile Salt for Fruit and Veggies (Bot Muoi Ot)