What is MSG or monosodium glutamate?
MSG is a natural flavour enhancer that has the ability to make literally any food taste better. Natural glutamates are chemically identical to the glutamate in MSG and can be found in among many others, blue cheese, Parmesan cheese, soy sauce, fish sauce, anything tomato, mushrooms, broccoli, oysters, olives, corn, potatoes, chicken, mackerel, anchovies, cured meats, beef broth, cows milk, human milk, and anything made with a yeast extract.
Glutamate gives food a distinct umami flavour – it’s what gives a dish a characteristic savoury taste. It has been proven that adding a little MSG to a dish to enhance its flavour will not do you any harm.
Glutamate is also a naturally occurring substance in our bodies.
Science repeatedly comes to the conclusion that MSG is glutamate and glutamate is MSG. Scientific research has found no reason why MSG would have an adverse effect on the body. The only thing added is salt.
The Chinese Restaurant Syndrome
It is MSG that gives Chinese and other Asian dishes their exceptional, piquant flavour. It was popular as an additive across the world until 1968 when Dr Robert Ho Man Kwok wrote a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine stating the following: “I have experienced a strange syndrome whenever I have eaten out in a Chinese restaurant, especially one that served northern Chinese food. The syndrome, which usually begins 15 to 20 minutes after I have eaten the first dish, lasts for about two hours. The most prominent symptoms are numbness at the back of the neck, gradually radiating to both arms and the back, general weakness and palpitations.”
And thus the Chinese Restaurant Syndrome was born. Nutritionists and scientists rushed out to prove the syndrome true by conducting severely flawed experiments. Unfortunately the myth persists even after numerous studies have concluded that MSG does not cause adverse reactions or allergies.
MSG was stigmatized as an evil chemical that was going to make you sick. Even revered British nutritionist and author, Patrick Holford, claimed that MSG was linked to hyperactivity in children.
WATCH: What’s the deal with MSG (and umami)?
MSG is still widely used commercially
We probably eat glutamate (the G in MSG) every single day, without realizing it as it is in many natural foods and because it is still used in foods commercially, but under other guises.
Since MSG was vilified, the food industry found ways to continue using it – especially since it had been proven to be safe. They just call it “Natural Flavouring” or monopotassium glutamate, glutavene, glutacyl, glutamic acid, autolyzed yeast extract, calcium caseinate or sodium caseinate, instead.