Now with MSG! Gourmet Chefs Revive the Unpopular Additive

"MSG Free"--once upon a time, food additives were taboo, and menus proudly proclaimed their absence. Not anymore. A growing contingent of gourmet chefs has discovered the secret to rich, irresistible flavor, and it's called monosodium glutamate.

The New MSG

If you're heading to chef school, you'll probably learn to cook with fresh, simple ingredients--but you may also come face to face with the oft-maligned flavor enhancer MSG. Gourmet chef David Chang openly embraces MSG in his restaurant Momofuku; it's what elevates his lobster rolls to true culinary art, he told Food & Wine recently.

Culinary Turbo Charge

According to some food critics, Chang "could be on the leading edge of an MSG revival." In a previous lifetime, MSG was a cheap way to make meat-poor dishes seem meatier. Today, MSG is more likely to add a subtle richness to a gourmet dish, allowing the chef to amplify the food's "protein" flavors. It's a "delicious essence" found naturally in some mushrooms and parmesan cheese.

Yummy Umami

The road from Top Ramen to culinary art has been paved by new awareness of umami, the 'fifth taste' after bitter, salty, sweet, and sour. Umami is variously described as "meaty," "brothy," "savory," "mouth-filling," and last but not least, "a scrumptious roundness in food, akin to a lovely cello note." MSG is simply the culinary world's artificial umami.

Umami Chef School

Umami has opened up a new frontier in the culinary arts, and gourmet chefs are eager to explore its full potential. If you're intrigued by the fifth taste and the gourmet promise it holds, chef school could be the perfect venue to experiment with umami in all its variations. Aside from synthesized MSG, umami is available in the form of dried fermented wheat gluten or soybean proteins, hydrolyzed soy protein, autolyzed yeast--ingredients you might recognize from the label of your favorite snack food.

Your chef school experience will open up new horizons in culinary arts--and one of them might just be the flavor-enhancing world of the food additive MSG.