Monosodium glutamate (MSG), also known as sodium glutamate, is a non-essential amino acid that is widely used as a food additive. The compound is usually available as monohydrate in a white, crystalline powder form. MSG is readily soluble in water, but does not absorb moisture. It is not soluble in most organic solvents. MSG is not broken down during cooking and is stable during normal food processing conditions. It occurs naturally in many foods such as soy beans, fish, mushrooms, asparagus, tomatoes, seaweed, sugar beets, and cheese.
The concentration of naturally occurring MSG can be increased through culinary techniques such as sun drying food products and aging cheese. Addition of MSG gives food a distinctive umami or savory taste. Umami is recognized as a basic taste along with sweet, bitter, salty, and sour. There is a lot of controversy regarding the ill-effects from the consumption of MSG. The hydrate is claimed to cause nausea and feelings of discomfort, collectively known as “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.” Some of the symptoms include flushing chest pain, numbness or burning near the mouth, and excessive sweating. However, there is no scientific consensus regarding the adverse effects of MSG. The hydrate is widely used in many parts of the world.
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MSG can be obtained through three techniques: hydrolysis of vegetable proteins using HCl, direct chemical synthesis using acrylonitrile as the starting material, and fermentation of certain bacteria. Majority of the global commercial MSG is produced through fermentation by the Corynebacterium species of bacteria cultured with carbohydrates and ammonia from molasses, tapioca, sugar beets, or sugar cane. This process is similar to the process used to manufacture vinegar or yogurt. During the fermentation process, the bacteria excrete amino acids into a culture broth from which MSG is isolated. MSG enhances the flavor of food with an umami taste that strengthens the meaty, savory flavor of food. MSG as a flavor enhancer blends, stabilizes, and intensifies the perception of other tastes. MSG is generally added to Chinese food, beverages, canned foods, and processed meats including soups, salty snacks, gelatins, malt flavoring, plant protein extracts, mixed nuts, yeast extract, malt extract, barley malt, stock, whey protein, processed meats, spices, pickles, salted/flavored peanuts, and baked goods.
The ability of MSG manufacturers to assuage fears regarding the use of MSG in food products is likely to be the key factor driving the market during the next decade. Studies regarding the ill-effects of the use of MSG in food have been inconclusive; many food governing bodies across the world have not restricted the use of the chemical in food products. However, customer sentiment, especially in North America and Europe, has been negative toward this chemical.
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Growth of the MSG hydrate market in these regions is likely to be sluggish during the next few years. However, MSG is widely used in countries in Northeast Asia such as Japan, South Korea, and China. China is the major consumer of MSG, accounting for more than 50% of the global consumption in 2015. Increase in consumption of fast food products in China is likely to boost the demand for MSG. Demand for MSG in ASEAN is also anticipated to increase in the near future due to use of the hydrate in the growing fast food industry and absence of restrictions regarding the use of the chemical. MSG is widely used in the food industry in India; however, rise in health awareness among the middle class population is likely to hamper the MSG market in the country. Other emerging countries such as Brazil, Nigeria, and South Africa are also likely to witness increasing demand for MSG as busier lifestyles and changes in dietary patterns boost the demand for fast foods and ready-to-eat meals. This, in turn, is projected to increase the consumption of MSG.