MSG (Monosodium Glutamate) is a flavor enhancer used to add a meaty/savory (often called umami) flavor to a dish. You might even have some in your pantry (though more likely it is in something that is in your pantry). What you might not know is that you can grow it into a large crystal.
[Chase] does an excellent job walking through the details of the process. MSG is one of the many common household substances that can grow into a crystal such as table salt, alum, fertilizer, sugar, or Epsom salt to name a few. The idea is quite simple — just create a supersaturated solution with your desired crystal material and then suspend a string in it; but the execution has some nuance. To create a medium that’s super saturated, heat some water and mix in equal parts of MSG. Then let it cool once it has all dissolved and split it into two parts, one big and one small. You need to create a seed crystal, so place the small solution in a shallow dish and let a crystal percolate out over the new few days. You attach one of the seed crystals that grow to a string and suspend it in your solution. There are several gotchas around how to properly harvest the crystals but [Chase] enumerates them for you.
We’ve covered [Chase’s] efforts before when he grew crystals out of Rust. He is on a quest to grow all five flavor stones: salty, sweet, sour, umami, and bitter and we wish him all the best. What we would also love to see is the whole process of MSG from start to finish, making your own MSG.
When we talk about crystals around here, we’re generally talking about the quartz variety used to make oscillators more stable, or perhaps ruby crystals used to make a laser. We hardly ever talk about homegrown crystals, though, and that’s a shame once you see how easy it is to make beautiful crystals from scratch.
We’ve got to say that we’re impressed by the size and aesthetics of the potassium ferrioxalate crystals [Chase Lean] makes with this recipe, and Zelda fans will no doubt appreciate their resemblance to green rupees. The process starts with rust, or ferric oxide, which can either be purchased or made. [Chase] chose to make his rust by soaking steel wool in a solution of saltwater and peroxide and heating the resulting sludge. A small amount of ferric oxide is added to a solution of oxalic acid, a commonly used cleaning and bleaching agent. Once the rust is dissolved, potassium carbonate is slowly added to the solution, turning it a bright green.
The rest of the process happens more or less naturally, as crystals begin to form in the saturated solution. And boy, did they grow — long, prismatic lime-green crystals, with a beautiful clarity and crisp edges and facets. The crystals don’t last long under light, though — they quickly lose their clarity and become a more opaque green.
[Chase]’s crystal-growing efforts have shown up here before, when he turned humble table salt into beautiful cubic crystals. We find the whole crystal-growing process fascinating, and we’re looking forward to more of this in the future.