MSG Is The Unexpected Secret To Adding An Umami Depth To Desserts

There are all sorts of adventurous avenues you can take your desserts down these days. The salty and the savory have entered the chat with a bang, and it's hard to look anywhere without seeing potato chips in cookies, cheddar in pie crust, or miso in caramel. But is there a place for MSG, the one-time bad boy of umami flavorings, in these very same desserts? As MSG is a blend of sodium and glutamic acid, it really only enhances umami flavors in food, not sweet ones. 

This means that it can make your meat stews taste meatier and your cheesy snacks more cheesy. While this may initially seem like a downside, it proves to be a boon for adding complexity to one-note confections. Consider the nuance that salt adds to caramel or the savory undertone that peanut butter brings to baked goods. Each of these ingredients is used to create a new layer within your dessert. MSG works to up the ante on these existing layers, highlighting the umami richness of ingredients like eggs, nuts, and matcha.   

How to supercharge your sweets with MSG

Unlocking the power of MSG for your baked goods is all about understanding what pairs best with it. This line of thought always comes back to glutamates, the umami-tasting element of MSG. Many foods naturally create glutamates, from shiitake mushrooms to sun-dried tomatoes. This list of ingredients may seem distinctly savory, but there are still plenty that promise a dessert possibility. 

For example, walnuts are rich in glutamate and a caramel walnut tart would welcome a touch of MSG. Eggs also prove a fruitful avenue as a custard, ice cream, or pudding will take on new depth with a bit of this ingredient added in. Likewise, malted products pack a glutamate punch, so consider adding MSG to recipes like malted pancakes or even chocolate cake. 

Beyond that, you can try adding it to desserts that already have surprisingly savory and umami-rich ingredients, like miso banana bread or matcha pound cake. Once you select a complimentary recipe for your umami test, start by introducing 1/2 to one teaspoon of MSG to the recipe, tasting and adjusting as you see fit. From there, you can see firsthand how the magic ingredient can bring unprecedented depth to your desserts.