When Tasting Table asked Alinea chef Grant Achatz “What are your top three kitchen staples,” the chef replied “kosher salt, black pepper, and MSG. If you give me those three items, I can make anything taste good. MSG, people are going to hate me for—but you don’t even want to get into a conversation about umami with me.”

Achatz is not alone in his love for monosodium glutamate. Some of the world’s best chefs—including David Chang and Heston Blumenthal—use MSG and consider it an important ingredient in their kitchen arsenal.

“You don’t even want to get into a conversation about umami with me,” says Achatz.

The consumption of MSG became controversial in the late 1960s when it was associated with a number of adverse reactions including headaches, allergies, and nausea—it was even once called an excitotoxin, meaning that it is potentially brain-damaging. Today, we now know that demonizing MSG doesn’t make sense. So, what does MSG do? It enhances flavor, creates umami, and “beefs up the beefy flavor,” according to Pok Pok chef Andy Ricker.

In the video above, Achatz and Tasting Table editor Karen Palmer do a side-by-side tasting of salt and MSG. They agree that while salt has just one dimension, MSG has many dimensions and a lot of flavor, but it’s not salty. “Savory, but not salty,” Achatz says. Then they try the MSG mixed with salt and black pepper. Palmer’s reaction? “I want to put that on everything.”

[via Tasting Table]

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