AIMS The aim of the present study was to evaluate the effects of acute and chronic exposure to alcohol on taste responses to a prototypic umami substance, monosodium glutamate (MSG). METHODS The rated intensity and pleasantness of MSG taste (0.03-10.0%) was compared in chronic male alcoholics (n = 35) and control subjects (n = 25). In a separate experiment, the effects of acute exposure of the oral mucosa to ethanol rinse (0.5-4.0%) on MSG taste (0.3-3.0%) were studied in 10 social drinkers. RESULTS The alcoholic and control group did not differ in terms of the rated intensity and pleasantness of MSG taste. Electrogustometric thresholds were significantly (P < 0.01) higher, i.e. worse, in the alcohol-dependent subjects. The difference remained significant after controlling for between-group differences in cigarette smoking and coffee drinking. Rinsing with ethanol did not alter either intensity or pleasantness of MSG taste in social drinkers. CONCLUSIONS The present results suggest that: (i) neither acute nor chronic alcohol exposure modifies taste responses to MSG; (ii) alcohol dependence may be associated with deficit in threshold taste reactivity, as assessed by electrogustometry.