How is MSG made?
It all began with kelp. In 1908, Dr. Kikunae Ikeda observed that there was a taste beyond the basic ones of salty, sweet, sour, and bitter. It was a rich, savory taste found in foods like tomatoes, cheese, meat — and dashi, a soup stock made from dried kelp. He eventually extracted glutamic acid from dashi, and discovered that this was the source of its savory taste. He named this taste “umami” and filed a patent to produce it in an easy-to-use form. MSG was launched on the Japanese market the following year.
Today, MSG is no longer extracted and crystallized from kelp broth. It is instead produced by the fermentation of starch found in natural ingredients such as sugar beets, sugar cane, cassava or molasses.
In fermentation — the process used to make yogurt, vinegar, and wine — microorganisms transform natural ingredients and extend their usefulness. Just as lactobacillus bacteria turn milk into cheese or yogurt, microbes do the work of producing glutamic acid from cassava or sugar beets.