MSG is commonly used in processed foods to deliver that irresistible umami flavor, adding a punch to many simple products considered staples in every home kitchen cabinet, including chicken noodle soup. I decided to investigate the inclusion of MSG in various popular soup brands available to Westwood shoppers, because for me, chicken noodle soup is the pinnacle of American comfort food. For many, it’s a staple in the pantry for lunch on a rainy day, an easy dinner complement, or added comfort while battling an illness. Surveying the selection of brands and varieties of soup available at the local Westwood Ralph’s supermarket reveals some small insight into where and how MSG is used for its flavor enhancing power, and how this may vary across brands, product lines, and price points.
Campbell’s dominates the soup shelves. The Westwood Ralph’s sells offers a wide selection of Campbell’s chicken noodle soups: a chunky chicken noodle, chicken and stars, homestyle healthy and delicious, and homestyle classic favorite chicken noodle. This wide variety appears to target a diversified consumer segment. Other brands seem to have found a special niche in the soup-buyer market; Progresso offers a 99% fat free chicken noodle, Kroger offers both a hearty and classic chicken noodle option, Amy’s takes a spin off of the chicken noodle craze for vegetarians, and Wolfgang Puck advertises an organic free range chicken recipe.
I expected to find a clear relationship between reliance on MSG in the recipe and the lower-cost of soups. When I examined the available options, however, what I found was more complicated. The above graph breaks down the brands and types of chicken noodle soups by price-point (cents per ounce) and the inclusion of MSG in ingredients (red bars denote MSG inclusion, green denotes exclusion). For example, Campbell’s Classic Favorite Homestyle is more expensive than the Healthy and Delicious Homestyle–yet it is the one containing MSG in its ingredient listing. On the other hand, Kroger’s Hearty Chicken Noodle containing no MSG is more than twice the price of its chicken noodle children’s brand–which does contain MSG.
Of course, these observations are limited to the scope of one Ralph’s in Westwood surveyed in Spring 2017 and cannot claim to be representative of regional patterns. Nonetheless, the results suggest that a simple association of MSG with less expensive (and arguably lesser quality?) products does not hold up. Another chapter in the story of MSG best taken with a grain of salt.