Do you know that besides the four basic taste- sweet, sour, salty and bitter – there’s another flavour by the name of umami? A Japanese scientist manage to extract a substance called glutamate from kombu seaweed and discovered that its combination with salt creates a ‘pleasant savoury taste’. That is how MSG was created and slowly permeates supermarkets, restaurants and eventually our home kitchen.
IS MSG BAD FOR US?
What many of us doesn’t know that glutamate occurs naturally in food such as dried shrimps, anchovies, tomatoes, dried mushrooms and parmesan cheese. Though many people are convinced of the the danger of MSG, a series of studies shows that the flavour enhancer isn’t as harmful to health as we believe it is.
Advocate of traditional food have a different but reasonable view on why we should avoid MSG. It reasoned that because we use inexpensive MSG to enhance our dishes, we stop using natural and nutritious ingredients such as herbs and stocks in our cooking. This modern habit eventually led to our ill-health.
HOW TO MAKE FOOD TASTY WITHOUT MSG
While I don’t go out of our way to avoid MSG when I eat out, I don’t enhance my cooking with ajinomoto either. Instead, I use a lot of herbs (how to make healthy food taste good) and make slow-boiled stock (Homemade Vegetable Broth) to make my cooking taste good.
While it might be enough for me (and possibility our healthier ancestors), I realise that natural flavouring is not enough to please the tastebuds of family and friends; they expect food to taste as flavourful as char koay teow or food in McDonalds that they are so used to have.
That led me to the discovery of powdered dried shrimps which I fondly call my ‘homemade MSG’. A spoonful of this in soup and stir-fry vegetables gives an intense, delicious flavour.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Waiting time: 6 hours
Dried shrimps (udang kering) x 250 g
TO MAKE CLEAN AND DRY SHRIMPS
- Rinse dried shrimps.
- Scatter shrimps on a large tray and air-dry it.
TO BLEND & STORE
- Put dried shrimps in a blender and process until it turns into powder. It takes about 2 minutes.
- Transfer dried shrimps into a container and label it.
- It took about 6 hours to completely dry the shrimps. Of course, this changes according to humidity and temperature.
- You want to make sure it is completely dry as water can harbour bacteria and cause it to deteriorate.
- It is best to keep the homemade MSG in the freezer. If kept properly, it should last indefinitely.
- A quarter kilo of dried shrimps produce three small bottles of dried shrimp powder.
Ajinomoto (150g) RM 3.40| Knorr Pasti Sedap (100g) RM 4.70 | Maggi Cukup Rasa (100 g) RM 3.10.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
I bought a kilo of grade A dried shrimps for RM 55. Hence, a 200 g powdered shrimp costs nearly RM 14. It’s about three times the price of Ajinomoto and twice the price of Maggi Cukup Rasa. Now you know why restaurants and hawker stalls love using MSG; it makes food taste exceptionally good at a very low price.
Like MSG, a little of your homemade MSG goes a long way. It’s possible to reduce the pricing of it by buying lower grade dried shrimps. For me, when it comes to food, I always get the best quality that I can afford.
Over to you: how do you enhance the flavour home-cook food naturally?