The key difference between MSG and salt is that the MSG (monosodium glutamate) is the sodium salt of glutamic acid whereas salt is primarily sodium chloride.
Both MSG and salt contains sodium. The term MSG stands for monosodium glutamate. It is a food additive that we use to enhance the flavour of processed food. Both salt and MSG are flavour enhancers. Moreover, they can improve the texture and shelf life of the food. People often confuse with the two compounds because they appear similar.
What is MSG?
MSG is monosodium glutamate. It is the sodium salt of glutamic acid. Glutamic acid is one of the most abundant amino acid, which falls under the category of non-essential amino acids in nature. Naturally, it occurs in tomatoes, grapes, cheese, etc. The chemical formula of this compound is C5H8NO4Na. The molar mass is 169.11 g/mol. It appears as a white, crystalline powder, similar to the appearance of table salt. The melting point of this compound is 232 °C.
Moreover, the sodium content of this compound is lower than that of salt; in MSG, the sodium content is 12%, and in sodium chloride, it is 39%. This is mainly due to the greater mass of the glutamate counter ion. In addition to that, there is a common belief that says that MSG causes a headache and other feelings that may discomfort our body. However, double-blind tests have shown no evidence for this belief. Currently, people believe that this compound is safe for human consumption.
What is Salt?
Salt is a mineral that is mainly composed of sodium chloride. Therefore, the chemical formula for this compound is NaCl. This compound is present in vast quantities in seawater. Ex: open ocean has 35 g/L solid sodium chloride. In general, this compound is essential for our consumption in the day to day life. The major processes that form salt are mining salt mines and evaporation of seawater. Edible form of this compound is essential for human health and for most other animals as well.
Moreover, it also is one of the five basic taste sensations. It is, therefore, the main ingredient in many foods. The widely available form is iodized salt which contains added potassium iodide. Most of the times, we add salt in food processing (as an ingredient in processed food), for both preservation and flavouring.
What is the Difference Between MSG and Salt?
MSG is monosodium glutamate, which is a sodium salt of glutamic acid whereas salt is a mineral, which is mainly composed of sodium chloride. Therefore, this is the key difference between MSG and salt. However, both these compounds have a similar appearance: they appear as white crystalline solid compounds. Nevertheless, if we look at their chemical properties, we can identify some difference between MSG and salt. The chemical properties such as the molar mass and melting point differ in both. Moreover, there is also some difference between MSG and salt in their uses. For example, we can use salt as a preservative while we can use MSG as a flavour enhancer. In addition to that, due to the large size of counter ion in MSG, the sodium content of MSG is comparatively very low to that of the salt.
The below infographic presents full details of the difference between MSG and salt.
Summary – MSG vs Salt
Although both MSG and salt have a similar appearance, they have some differences in their chemical and physical properties. The key difference between MSG and salt is that MSG is the sodium salt of glutamic acid whereas salt is primarily sodium chloride.