Does Fish Sauce Have MSG? Unveiling Fish Sauce Hidden Danger


Welcome to the fascinating world of fish sauce! If you’ve eaten Southeast Asian food, you’ve probably tried this mysterious condiment. But lurking behind its tangy, savory allure is a burning question that has left many curious taste buds perplexed: does fish sauce have MSG?

In this article, we uncover the truth about fish sauce and MSG. Prepare to explore the captivating history of this culinary gem, discover its production secrets, and discover its complex flavors that make it a beloved staple in kitchens worldwide.

We’ll explore MSG’s controversial balance between umami perfection and health risks. We will help you find the fish sauce that suits your tastes, whether you prefer traditional artisanal blends or a modern take on this ancient delight.

So grab your chopsticks and get ready to embark on a journey that will satisfy both your curiosity and your palate. Let’s uncover the truth about fish sauce and its MSG mysteries together!

Understanding Fish Sauce and Its Origin

Salt-fermented fish, typically anchovies, are the main ingredient in fish sauce. It has been used for centuries in Asian cuisines, especially in Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines. 

The process of making fish sauce involves layering fish and salt in large barrels and allowing them to ferment for several months to a year. The result is a rich, amber-colored liquid with a pungent aroma and intense savory flavor.

Fish sauce has a rich history that dates back thousands of years. It originated in ancient civilizations, including ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. However, it is most associated with Southeast Asian cuisine, particularly in countries like Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

MSG, an acronym that stands for monosodium glutamate, holds a significant place in the realm of culinary exploration. This flavor enhancer, with its intriguing name, has been the subject of curiosity, debate, and, at times, unwarranted controversy. 

Understanding MSG requires delving into its composition and purpose, and dispelling common misconceptions that have shrouded this naturally occurring substance.

At its core, MSG emerges from the depths of glutamic acid, an amino acid that exists abundantly in various foods. Glutamic acid gives tomato, mushroom, and cheese their savory taste. MSG, in its synthesized form, harnesses this innate flavor and intensifies it, transforming ordinary dishes into extraordinary culinary experiences.

MSG enhances umami, a taste that has steadily taken its place alongside sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. Umami, often described as savory or meaty, adds depth and complexity to dishes, making them more satisfying and memorable. 

It is crucial to dispel any misconceptions surrounding MSG. It’s been mislabeled as an artificial additive, conjuring images of lab experiments and synthetic compounds. 

However, MSG is far from a man-made creation; it is a naturally occurring substance extracted from foods that are rich in glutamic acid. It is akin to extracting a precious gem from the depths of nature, harnessing its brilliance to enhance the sensory experience.

Furthermore, concerns about adverse reactions to MSG have arisen, leading to the phenomenon commonly known as “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.” Over the years, scientific research has failed to link MSG to the reported symptoms. 

As with any ingredient, moderation is key when using MSG. A little goes a long way in elevating the flavors of a dish, providing a touch of magic that enhances the overall gustatory experience. 

MSG is used by skilled chefs and home cooks to add depth and complexity to their recipes, but it is not necessary.

Does Fish Sauce Contain MSG?

Fish sauce does naturally contain glutamic acid, which is the precursor to MSG. During the fermentation process, the proteins in the fish break down, releasing glutamic acid and other amino acids. However, the levels of naturally occurring MSG in fish sauce are generally lower compared to commercially added MSG in processed foods.

While fish sauce contains naturally occurring glutamate, it is not necessarily equivalent to MSG. The glutamate in fish sauce is different from the isolated monosodium glutamate used as a food additive. The flavor profile of fish sauce is complex and influenced by various compounds present in the sauce, not solely MSG. It is the combination of these compounds that gives fish sauce its distinct taste.

It’s important to note that not all fish sauces contain MSG. Some manufacturers may choose to add MSG as a flavor enhancer. Many traditional and artisanal fish sauces rely solely on the natural fermentation process to develop their unique flavor profiles.

Health Effects and Safety of MSG

The safety of MSG has been a subject of debate for several decades. After eating MSG-containing foods, some people report headaches, flushing, and sweating, but scientific research has not consistently supported these claims. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers MSG safe for consumption when used in normal amounts.

Individuals with sensitivities to MSG or those who are prone to migraines may want to exercise caution and monitor their intake. If MSG is a concern in fish sauce or other foods, read labels and choose options that fit your diet and health needs.

Choosing Fish Sauce

fish sauce bottles

If you prefer to avoid added MSG in your fish sauce, there are options available on the market. Look for fish sauces that explicitly state “no added MSG” on their labels. Many reputable brands offer MSG-free fish sauce, so you can enjoy its flavors without the risks.

Additionally, consider exploring artisanal or traditionally fermented fish sauces. These products often undergo a longer fermentation process, which intensifies their flavors naturally, reducing the need for added MSG. 

These fish sauces tend to have a more complex flavor profile, making them an excellent choice for culinary enthusiasts looking to elevate their dishes.

Table: Comparison of Fish Sauce Brands

Here is a comparison table of popular fish sauce brands, highlighting whether they contain added MSG:

BrandContains Added MSG
Brand ANo
Brand BYes
Brand CNo
Brand DYes

Please note that this table is for illustrative purposes only and may not represent the current offerings of these brands. Always refer to the product labels for the most accurate and up-to-date information.

Fish Sauce Culinary Applications and Usage

Fish sauce and oyster sauce each have their own unique culinary applications and lend themselves to different types of dishes.

Fish sauce is a staple ingredient in many Southeast Asian recipes, such as Thai larb, Vietnamese nuoc cham, and Filipino adobo. It adds depth and umami to soups, stir-fries, marinades, and dipping sauces. A little fish sauce goes a long way, so it’s crucial to use it sparingly to avoid overpowering the dish.

Oyster sauce, on the other hand, is commonly used in Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese cuisines. It shines in stir-fried dishes, enhancing the flavors of vegetables, meats, and seafood. Oyster sauce adds a glossy sheen and a touch of sweetness to the final dish. It can also be used as a glaze for roasted meats or as a dipping sauce component.

While fish sauce and oyster sauce have distinct applications, they can occasionally be used interchangeably in recipes if necessary. However, keep in mind that they have different flavor profiles, so the end result may vary slightly.

Alternatives to Fish Sauce

For those who prefer to avoid fish sauce or are following a vegan or vegetarian diet, there are alternatives available. Several brands offer vegan or vegetarian fish sauce substitutes made from ingredients like soy, mushrooms, or seaweed. These alternatives aim to mimic the umami flavor of fish sauce while catering to dietary preferences or restrictions.

Here are some popular fish sauce alternatives:

  • Soy sauce: A widely used condiment with a savory flavor profile.
  • Tamari: A gluten-free soy sauce alternative made with little or no wheat.
  • Coconut aminos: A sauce made from fermented coconut sap, often used as a soy sauce replacement.
  • Mushroom sauce: Made from mushrooms, this sauce provides a rich umami flavor.

Homemade Fish Sauce Alternatives

Fermented Fish Sauce Homemade

If you prefer a homemade approach, you can create your own fish sauce alternatives at home. By making your own fish sauce, you can choose not to add MSG or any other ingredients you don’t want. 

These homemade versions are customizable and allow you to adjust flavors to your liking. Common ingredients used in homemade fish sauce substitutes include seaweed, soy sauce, mushrooms, and other umami-rich components. Experiment with different combinations to find the perfect substitute for your recipes.

Step-by-Step Guide to Crafting Homemade Fish Sauce:

Step 1: Gather the Ingredients and Prepare the Fish

To begin your journey into the world of homemade fish sauce, gather the following ingredients: fresh fish (anchovies or small oily fish work best), sea salt (preferably non-iodized), and a large glass jar or earthenware pot. Ensure that the fish is properly cleaned, free from scales and guts, as the freshness of the fish greatly impacts the final taste of the sauce.

Step 2: Layer the Fish with Salt

Take your clean fish and layer them in the glass jar or pot, sprinkling sea salt generously between each layer. The salt acts as a catalyst, drawing out moisture from the fish and creating the ideal environment for fermentation. Make sure to cover every fish with salt to ensure an even distribution.

Step 3: Seal and Store the Jar/Pot

Cover the jar or pot with a breathable cloth or plastic wrap to allow airflow while keeping insects away. Place it in a cool, dark corner of your kitchen or pantry, where it can remain undisturbed for the duration of the fermentation process. Patience is key, as the fish sauce will take several months to develop its unique flavors.

Step 4: Monitor the Fermentation Process

Check on your fish sauce regularly to monitor its progress. Over time, you’ll notice changes in color, aroma, and taste. The liquid will deepen in color, developing a pungent aroma that is both enticing and slightly funky. Taste the sauce occasionally to gauge its flavor development.

Step 5: Strain and Separate the Liquid

Once you’re satisfied with the flavor profile of your fish sauce, it’s time to separate the liquid from the solids. Using a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth, strain the sauce, discarding the fish solids. Be sure to press down on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. The resulting liquid is your homemade fish sauce, ready to be savored.

Step 6: Store and Enjoy

Transfer your homemade fish sauce to a clean, airtight bottle or jar for storage. Keep it in the refrigerator, where it can stay fresh for several months. As time goes on, the flavors will continue to mature, so feel free to sample and enjoy your homemade creation in various dishes. Use it as a seasoning in stir-fries, soups, marinades, dipping sauces, or any recipe that could benefit from a burst of umami goodness.


In conclusion, fish sauce contains naturally occurring monosodium glutamate (MSG) from fermentation, but the levels are lower than those in processed foods. 

Whether or not fish sauce contains added MSG depends on the brand and the specific product. It is essential to read product labels and choose options that align with your preferences.

While MSG has been the subject of debate, scientific research generally supports its safety when consumed in normal amounts. However, individuals with sensitivity to MSG or those prone to migraines may want to be cautious and monitor their intake.

If you prefer to avoid added MSG in fish sauce, look for brands that explicitly state “no added MSG” on their labels. Many reputable brands offer MSG-free options, ensuring you can enjoy the flavors of fish sauce without the potential concerns associated with added MSG.

In conclusion, fish sauce can contain naturally occurring MSG, but not all fish sauces have added MSG. It’s important to read product labels and choose options that suit your dietary preferences. Whether you enjoy the umami richness of fish sauce with or without added MSG, it remains a versatile and delicious condiment that can elevate your culinary creations.

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