A recent research report, Ingredient Watch: Debunking MSG from Mintel,1 the world's leading market intelligence agency, finds that consumers now view monosodium glutamate (MSG) positively, despite historical misconceptions about MSG rooted in xenophobia. In addition to showing that 75% of the global social media conversation about MSG is positive between 2018-2023,2 the report posits that companies that strive to destigmatize the ingredient will be seen favorably by consumers – unlocking a powerful opportunity for food companies.
Despite MSG's safety record validated by health organizations across the globe, the ingredient has been unfairly villainized for decades in the US, stemming from poorly conducted science and xenophobic stigma. Since 2018, the Ajinomoto Group has worked to set the record straight in the US, working with nutrition and culinary experts and the Asian Pacific Islander (API) community to unravel years of stigma. In 2020, Merriam-Webster revised its definition of the problematic term "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome" after the Ajinomoto Group and other advocates exposed its racist undertones in relation to MSG. In 2021, popular 30-day elimination program Whole30 announced it would "no longer rule out MSG as one of its off-limits additives," citing a reevaluation of "current science, historical learnings, and our diversity, equity and inclusion values."
The changing opinions of MSG come at an important time, as a recent World Health Organization report shows the world will miss its 2025 sodium reduction target that sets out to reduce global sodium intake, because of the negative health outcomes linked to sodium overconsumption, such as hypertension, heart disease and stroke. MSG can be an integral tool for reducing sodium, as it provides flavor enhancement and umami anywhere manufacturers need it, from soups to baked goods, but with two thirds less sodium than table salt.
"We are thrilled to see the consumer sentiment included in this report, as MSG is a valuable tool for creating foods that can meet sodium reduction needs, while still tasting delicious, which we know is the top driver of purchasing decisions," said Dr. Tia Rains, vice president, customer engagement and strategic development at Ajinomoto Health & Nutrition North America, Inc. "At Ajinomoto Health & Nutrition, we believe product developers should be operating with a full toolbox of safe ingredients at their disposal, and that includes MSG. Our team of experts in culinary, food science, and nutrition harness the power of amino acids, to help our customers create innovative, healthful and cost-efficient products with delicious taste and texture."
The report's author, Yunn Lim, is a consumer lifestyle analyst at Mintel covering the Asia Pacific region, and holds a degree in Nutrition and Food Science from the University of Reading. "MSG was once found in packaged foods across the US, but perceptions of the ingredient changed in the 1960s after a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine deemed it a controversial flavor enhancer in the West. From my research, I found that people in APAC are more accepting of the ingredient, whereas MSG has a darker rooted maligned history in the West. I used social listening data to highlight the difference in consumer perception across regions and how it changed over time. Combining social listening data with solid brand examples will provide inspiration for other brands to explore innovations around MSG too," shared Yunn.
Key findings include:
- Consumers will support brands that fight whitewashing – and boycott brands that don't. According to Mintel research, 64% of American consumers said they have or would boycott if a company reinforced racial stereotypes.
- Flavor is king. 85% of German consumers who used seasonings in the prior three months agreed that seasonings are a must have to make meat-free meals more exciting.
- There is a global interest in umami. 34% of Canadian consumers said savory flavors (i.e. umami) are most appealing to them and 33% of US consumers are eating more savory foods, such as umami, garlic, onion, etc.
1 Mintel, Ingredient Watch: Debunking MSG, 2023.
2 Infegy/Mintel, 2018-23