Science project

Can Taste Buds Detect MSG Levels?

Research Questions:

  • How is MSG created?
  • How do humans detect the presence of MSG?

MSG is widely used around the world, especially in Asian cooking, to enhance the savoriness of foods and beef up their natural flavors. And yet there have been health warnings against the use of MSG, as it is artificially created by fermenting carbohydrates. It is said to cause headaches and worsen existing asthma symptoms if taken in large amounts. In this experiment, we will test how sensitive test subjects are to the presence of MSG in food.


Ingredients (to be found at grocery store/ supermarket or around the house)

  • Package of Monosodium Glutumate (MSG)
  • Sweet rice flour (Mochiko)
  • Granulated sugar
  • Three cups hot water
  • Soy sauce
  • Rice cooking wine (mirin)

Equipment (to be found around the house, the supermarket, or at a kitchen gadgetry store)

  • Grill
  • Steamer
  • Stove
  • Containers/bowls to knead dough and combine ingredients
  • Measuring spoons
  • Mixing spoons
  • Rolling pin
  • Round cookie cutters
  • Wax paper
  • Straw/bamboo mats
  • Basting brush
  • Oven mitts/potholders

People Needed

  • At least 50 test subjects to do a taste test on your crackers
  • An adult to help with the parts involving high heat


  • Notebook and pen

Experimental Procedure:

  1. Mix together three and a half cups of rice flour and three tablespoons of sugar, and then add one cup of hot water.
  2. Knead the dough, roll into balls, and steam in a pot/steamer for just five to ten minutes just to soften, add moisture, and smoothen it. Ask an adult to help you and to monitor your progress.
  3. Remove from heat, knead it again, and roll into large coils.
  4. Roll out the dough into thin sheets on the wax paper and cut with the cookie cutter into individual crackers.
  5. Lay out your crackers in the sun on the straw/bamboo mats to dry.
  6. Brush on a mixture of a quarter cup soy sauce and a quarter cup mirin.
  7. Grill the crackers until it looks golden delicious.
  8. Repeat steps 1-7 for the second batch of crackers, but this time, do not forget to add a half teaspoon of MSG to the mixture in step 1. Remember and note very carefully that a half teaspoon of MSG has been added to this batch.
  9. Repeat steps 1-7 for the third and final batch of crackers, but this time, do not forget to add five teaspoons of MSG to the mixture in step 1. Remember and note very carefully that five teaspoons of MSG has been added to this batch.
  10. Originally, you already know that Batch A has no MSG, Batch B has a little MSG, and Batch C has a lot, but you should mix the labels around (in your mind) so that people do not automatically guess it correctly based on order. Perhaps you can make your Batch A the batch that has a little MSG, Batch B the one that has a lot of MSG, and Batch C the one that has no MSG just to avoid the tendency of people to guess correctly based on order of increase. Remember to not tell anyone nor label anywhere on paper what each one is because that will defeat the purpose of the experiment!
  11. Organize a taste test for at least 50 test subjects. Give them each one cracker in each batch and ask them which they think has no MSG, a little MSG, and the most MSG and which they prefer and dislike. You may also instead just hand out ready-made comment cards (provided below) to your test subjects to speed up the process instead of interviewing them individually.
  12. Evaluate your results and determine whether humans can detect with their tastebuds the savory flavor present in MSG by counting and determining how many people hypothesized correctly out of the number of test subjects you had. Then translate that to a percentage. And does adding too much MSG make foods taste “bad”? How many of your test subjects report headaches or other physical reactions common to MSG?
Charts & Data Collection
Test Subject #___________
Name (optional) __________

* Please check √ the box for the respective MSG amounts you hypothesize after taste-testing all 3 crackers. Thank you. *

Batch A
Batch B
Batch C
# Of Correct Hypotheses
# of correct educated guesses
Batch A
___ out of ___
     _____ %
Batch B
___ out of ___

     _____ %

Batch C
___ out of ___
     _____ % 
Preferred Taste
Flavor/Taste Preference
Batch A
___ out of ___
     _____ %
Batch B
___ out of ___
     _____ %
Batch C
___ out of ___
     _____ % 

Terms/Concepts: Monosodium Glutamate; Umami; Taste Buds; Fermentation; Carbohydrates; Amino Acids; Food additive


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