If you’ve eaten a fried rice dish at a Chinese restaurant and wondered why it tastes so much better than the home-cooked version, it’s probably because of MSG.
Monosodium glutamate, or MSG, is a common and controversial flavor enhancer in many Asian dishes, including fried rice. It’s mainly famous for adding a mouth-watering (literally) umami flavor to food.
Yet, the question is if MSG is safe for consumption and how much MSG should you use in fried rice?
MSG rarely poses any health risks as long as you consume less than three grams per day. Generally, adding between one-half and one teaspoon of MSG to your fried rice is best to elevate the dish with its rich meaty flavor.
Is It Safe to Use MSG in Fried Rice?
As a kid, all I heard from people around me was how dangerous MSG is! I never questioned them until I grew up and decided to dig a little.
Many people back in the 1960s believed that MSG was a toxic ingredient that caused metabolic disorders and brain toxicity.
There were several reasons for this misinformation, including xenophobia against Chinese immigrants in the United States and a lack of proper research!
These myths against MSG were soon debunked as most health authorities today, like FDA and EFSA, consider MSG safe.
It’s also okay to consume at most 14 mg of MSG per pound of body weight each day. Now I regret years of missing out on delicious Asian fried rice with MSG!
How Much MSG Should You Use in Fried Rice?
You need to get the amount of MSG right if you plan to add it to your fried rice.
If you add less MSG than recommended, you won’t get its drool-worthy taste. Add too much, and you’ll risk overpowering and ruining the other flavors of your fried rice with a bitter aftertaste!
A general guideline is to add half or one teaspoon of MSG to your fried rice. I suggest not adding it all at once if you’re using MSG for the first time. Instead, add a pinch of MSG, sauté the rice, and then taste it. This way, you can find the correct quantity of MSG that suits your taste buds.
Note that many variables can affect the MSG quantity you should add to your fried rice. These variables include:
Ingredients: As stated earlier, MSG contributes an umami flavor to fried rice. You might also use other ingredients like soy sauce, oyster sauce, or fish sauce, known for their umami taste. When using any of these sauces, consider lowering the MSG quantity so you do not create an overpowering umami flavor.
Use of Salt: Along with an umami richness, MSG also makes the dish slightly savory. If you add extra salt to your rice, reduce MSG. Alternatively, you can reduce the salt amount and increase MSG. It’s up to you!
Dietary Restrictions: You may eliminate salt from fried rice if you want a low-sodium diet and use MSG instead. Just ensure that you add less than 3 grams of MSG.
Authentic Fried Rice Recipe With MSG
You won’t find many fried rice recipes containing MSG. Have no fear; after two to three failed attempts and many rounds of improvisation, I’ve got the perfect recipe for you!
Step 1: Gather the Ingredients
Preparing fried rice takes less than 15 minutes as long as you have the ingredients ready. There’s some chopping involved, so consider doing that beforehand.
Also, ensure that you have these ingredients available at your home for fried rice:
- 1 cup refrigerated and boiled basmati or jasmine rice (preferably day-old)
- 1 diced carrot
- 3 minced garlic cloves
- 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
- ½ to 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
- ½ to 1 teaspoon of MSG
- ½ cup chopped scallions
You can also add optional ingredients like extra vegetables (I recommend French beans, bell peppers, or peas) and a protein of choice (egg or tofu are both incredible!).
Step 2: Heat a Wok and Pour in Vegetable Oil
Start by heating the wok on a medium-high flame. Then, add two tablespoons of vegetable oil. Allow the oil to sizzle a little.
Don’t have a wok? No worries! A non-stick pan will work just fine.
Step 3: Sauté Carrots and Minced Garlic in the Wok
Once the oil is ready for stir-frying, add minced garlic and sauté until golden brown. Throw in the diced carrots and continue stir-frying on medium-high heat for two minutes.
Here I am only using carrots and garlic, but you can also add French beans, bok choy, peas, and bell peppers in this step.
Step 4: Add Rice to the Sautéed Vegetables and Fry Over High Heat
After sautéing the veggies, transfer the rice to the wok.
Continue stir-frying the vegetables and rice over medium-high heat, using a wooden spatula, until everything is combined well.
Most chefs recommend using day-old dry, refrigerated rice for fried rice. Freshly-steamed rice is full of moisture, which gets released into the wok during stir-frying. This extra moisture can turn your fried rice mushy.
Step 5: Add the Remaining Ingredients
Add the remaining ingredients to the wok, including half a teaspoon of MSG and one tablespoon of soy sauce.
You can also drizzle any other sauces, like oyster or fish oil, that you want. Then, gently sauté and mix the ingredients until well combined.
Tip: If you want to add protein to your fried rice, toss in pieces of scrambled egg or crumbled tofu.
Step 7: Stir-Fry for One Last Time
In the final step, taste the fried rice once to see if anything’s lacking and add that specific ingredient. Then, stir-fry for an extra three to four minutes. Once done, turn off the flame and transfer the rice to a bowl.
I love to garnish my fried rice with finely-chopped scallions. You can follow the same presentation or experiment with something new!
Best Substitutes for MSG in Fried Rice
If you still feel skeptical about using MSG in fried rice, you can always use a substitute. I have used MSG substitutes in the past with tasty results, though I prefer the flavor of true MSG. Here are a few alternatives to MSG:
Beef stock used to be one of my go-to substitutes for MSG. It has a savory and meaty taste, similar to MSG. Don’t even get me started on its health benefits!
You can use store-bought beef stock or make your own. To make your own, all you have to do is cook and simmer beef bones and vegetables in water. Once you filter out the solids, the resulting liquid is your beef stock.
Boil basmati or jasmine rice in beef stock for your fried rice. Then, follow the same steps mentioned above to stir-fry rice without adding MSG.
Oyster or Fish Sauce
Both oyster and fish sauce have an umami flavor that can easily mask the absence of MSG in a dish.
Add one and a half tablespoons of oyster sauce and two tablespoons of fish sauce to your fried rice as an MSG substitute.
Shiitake mushrooms are popular for imparting an earthy, woodsy flavor to any dish. It’s not precisely umami, but it comes pretty close.
Before adding the shiitake mushrooms to your fried rice, I recommend tossing them in butter until golden brown. This extra step gives a more pronounced flavor to your dish.
People jokingly say the ‘M’ in MSG stands for myths, so don’t believe everything you read about this lovely ingredient! Use it judiciously in your fried rice, and you’re good to go.