People sometimes add MSG to food to make it taste better. It has an umami taste that enhances flavor.
But like salt, it also has a crystalline structure. If you look closely at it, you’ll see that a spoonful of MSG is actually made up of small, elongated crystals. The question is, can you grow big crystals with it?
The answer is yes!
Hi, I’m Chase, and I love to grow crystals at home. Over the past 3 years, I’ve successfully grown crystals from table salt, alum, copper sulfate, fertilizer and many more. It’s surprising how easily you can crystallize many household materials.
However, I couldn’t find much information on growing MSG crystals online. So I decided to give it a try, and the results surprised me. In this guide, I’ll share how to grow MSG crystals with you. I believe it’s the only such article on the Internet.
Behold the flavor stone. Umami in its purest form.
How to grow MSG crystals
The concept is simple. Dissolve the MSG in water to form a saturated solution. Pour it into a dish, and wait for small crystals to form. Then, tie a crystal to a string, and hang it in a cup of solution to let it grow bigger.
The only thing you need is monosodium glutamate, MSG. 500 g is enough to grow all the crystals you’ll see in this guide.
Let’s get started.
Preparing a saturated solution
Prepare a pot of hot water. Dissolve MSG of equal mass in it, and stir until everything dissolves. For example, if you have 500 ml of water, then dissolve 500 g of MSG in it.
At first, the solution will be very cloudy. After around 5 minutes, all the powder should have been dissolved, and the solution will clear up.
Once the solution clears, immediately turn off the heat, and close the lid. Wait for the solution to cool to room temperature.
What you’ve just prepared is a supersaturated MSG solution. Since hot water can dissolve more MSG than cold water, once the solution cools, the extra MSG has nowhere to go. Thus, it crystallizes out, forming crystals in the process. This is exactly what we want.
After cooling, split the solution into 2 portions. Prepare one small portion (50 ml) and pour the rest into a large jar.
I’m using beakers, but you can use any container you like.
The solution might look yellowish – that’s normal. The crystals won’t end up yellow.
Now, put the big portion aside for the moment. It’s better if you cover the top with a lid, or seal it with some plastic wrap. This is to keep out dust, and to prevent crystals from growing prematurely.
Pour the small portion into a flat dish.
After that, place the dish in a cool, undisturbed area.
Depending on the conditions, small seed crystals will start to form within a few days. At first, they look like bits of white fluff:
Over time, more of them will appear, and they’ll start getting bigger, forming clumps.
Now, if your place is hot, dry, or exposed to air movement (thus causing the rate of evaporation to be too fast), a bunch of white crust might form instead.
At my place, the temperature is 27 °C and the humidity averages 80%. If your place is much drier, it might be necessary to get creative. For example, place the dish in the bathroom, near some plants, or inside a bowl containing water.
I placed this dish in the shoe cupboard outside my house – apparently it was too hot there.
Meanwhile, the dish inside the storeroom did pretty well.
When there are quite a lot of crystals in the dish, you want to move on to the next step.
Getting the MSG crystals to grow onto a string
Tape one end of a string to a stick, or a pencil. Again, nylon fishing line works best. Then, poke the other end of the string into the dish containing the crystals.
Here’s a close-up of the dish – you can see the string sticking in from the top right.
Try to get the string to touch one of the crystals. After that, wait one more day to ensure that the crystals stick the string.
Take the string out, together with the crystals stuck to it. Then, suspend them inside the big jar of solution that you prepared earlier.
Great. This will be our main growing setup, and allows us to grow much larger crystals.
It’s better to suspend the crystals rather than to grow them straight in the dish because of 2 main reasons:
- Suspending the crystals allows them to grow more symmetrically
- Suspending one crystal prevents others from growing close to it and sticking together, forming a big, ugly clump
Before we look at how the suspended crystal grows, let’s talk about another possibility:
Growing the MSG crystals at the bottom of the dish
Sometimes, if the conditions are stable enough, no crystals will form in the dish for a very long time. To fix this, you can manually sprinkle one or two grains of MSG into the dish. These grains will start growing quickly, and you can proceed as usual.
Or you can do nothing. It might take weeks, but as the solution gets more and more concentrated, tiny crystals will eventually form. Since there are very few crystals inside the dish, and the environment is stable, these crystals will be very well formed, and grow into large clusters right inside the dish.
If that’s the case, then well done!
When the crystals are big enough, take them out, dry them with a piece of tissue paper, and admire their beauty.
It’s amazing how you can grow such beautiful crystals with something so simple.
Growing big MSG crystals
Let’s get back to our suspended crystals.
I’ll show you pictures of several other crystals I suspended – since you’re already doing it, you might as well grow a few crystals all at once.
After two days:
After a week:
Eventually, crystals might start forming on the surface of the solution. Left alone, it will slowly cover the entire surface, slowing down evaporation and competing with your main crystals. If that’s the case, then simply pour the solution into a new container, and continue growing.
Crust forming on the surface of the solution. You don’t want that.
I’ve found that covering the top of the container with plastic wrap helps to slow down the formation of crust.
After a month:
The crystals were getting too big for the beaker. If you have more solution, and a bigger container, you can grow even more massive ones.
I was satisfied with mine, so I decided to harvest them.
Once again, I dried them with a piece of tissue paper. Make sure to soak up all the solution, or white specks will form on the crystal as the excess solution dries. Also, don’t wash it, or it will cause the edges to dissolve.
Here are the crystals:
They looked really pretty under the evening sun.
Storing the crystals
These crystals exist in the form of the monohydrate, which means there are water molecules inside its crystal structure. If the air is too dry, the crystals might lose this water, turning white.
Fortunately, the crystals are stable where I stay. I’ve kept them in the open for a few weeks with no visible change.
But I’ve still decided to store them properly:
Seal the crystals in a zip lock bag. Then, place it in a container with some MSG powder at the bottom. The powder should help maintain a stable atmosphere inside the container, preventing dehydration of the crystals.
If the air is very dry where you live, this setup will help preserve the crystals. Coating them with nail polish also provides further protection.
Some additional notes
When growing, make sure the level of the solution does not decrease so much as to expose the crystal. This will cause crust to form on the exposed end.
Here’s a picture of a crystal that was partially exposed:
The dashed line indicates the level of the solution.
An obvious question is:
Can you eat them?
Yes. Probably not a good idea though – are you so greedy for flavor?
Another commonly asked question is:
How hard are the crystals?
Not that hard. It’s perfectly fine to hold them, but it’s also easy to break the crystals off with your fingers. And they’ll fall apart when dropped.
Because of this, and due to the fact that they are soluble in water, it’s not suitable to make jewelry with MSG crystals.
Treat them as a cool experiment to do with family and friends. It’s a good decoration, a way to inspire conversation, and an awesome way to cultivate a love for science.
I hope you enjoyed the article, and do give it a try.
I’m currently on a quest to grow the five Flavor Stones – crystals that taste sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami respectively. Salty, bitter and umami are done. Sour is left. If you would like to see more guides like this, consider signing up for my newsletter.
As always, happy growing.