Amp Up Your Next Martini With An Unexpected Pinch Of MSG

The martini is still enjoying its post-pandemic revival, thanks in part to nostalgia for the bygone era (read: '90s stuff) that continues to drive consumer trends. Whether it's classic with a twist of lemon, dirty with olive brine, or sweet with coffee liqueur or green apple schnapps, the elegant cocktail is back on the menu in all its variations. As such, a new martini era has taken flight, giving way to inventive takes on the otherwise straightforward drink. 

At Temple Bar in Lower Manhattan, you'll find an extensive list of martinis that stray from tradition, including the "Lifetime Ban" with gin, blanc vermouth, fino sherry, and mint. At Beauty Bar in Chicago, you can choose from seven different types of martinis named after hairstyles, including the "Blowout" with ginger liqueur and whiskey. 

If you want to jazz up your at-home cocktail hour without hunting down a slew of fancy ingredients, though, look no further than your pantry. A little MSG will go a long way in amplifying the savory flavors of your next dirty martini recipe.

First thing's first: Don't believe MSG myths

Like the martini, monosodium glutamate (better known as MSG) has received much buzz in the food and drink world lately. Food-science experts and racial justice activists alike are still coming out of the woodwork to defend the ingredient, which has garnered a misguided reputation in the United States as an unhealthy additive found primarily in Chinese-American food, thanks to a speculative reader letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1968. 

In fact, MSG is used as a flavor enhancer in a wide variety of dishes, including the chicken sandwiches from Chick-fil-A. According to the Food & Drug Administration, the substance also occurs naturally in tomatoes, certain types of cheese, and other foods. 

When the Japanese biochemist Kikunae Ikeda first discovered MSG in the edible sea kelp kombu in the early 1900s, he came up with the word "umami" to describe its uniquely savory, salty flavor. Today, you'll find the ingredient sold in the form of a crystalline powder in the spice aisles of most Asian grocery stores. Do yourself a favor and bust it out the next time you need to make something taste like a better version of itself — including your dirty martini. 

Bring out the brine

We learned about the unlikely pairing of MSG and dirty martinis from Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Dan Souza, who goes heavy on the brine with his cocktail-hour tipples. On an episode of the YouTube series "What's Eating Dan?", he gets together with food celeb and MSG evangelist J. Kenji López-Alt to use the umami-packed powder in a variety of applications, including fried rice and chili crisp. They cap things off with — you guessed it — a supremely savory dirty martini made with two ounces of gin, one ounce of olive brine, half an ounce of dry vermouth, and a pinch of MSG. 

While Souza may have arrived at the fateful concoction independently after making a dirty martini with the brine of MSG-enhanced olives, he's not the only one who knows about the trend. At the famously-hard-to-get-into Brooklyn restaurant Bonnie's, lead bartender Channing Centeno serves up an MSG martini with Grey Goose vodka or Botanist gin, olive brine, sweet-and-sour Shaoxing wine, and, of course, MSG. Cheers to that.