MSG: Evil or Delicious?

*For my Writing for Interactive Media Class I picked Food Allergies as my topic. I’ll be re-posting my assignments here for your enjoyment. I’m not an expert, this is just me trying to learn more and share what I learn. Here’s why MSG is delicious*

One of my favorite condiments is Japanese Mayonnaise, or as I like to call it Japannaise. Many of my friends don’t understand why I like it so much compared to American mayonnaise. I try to explain that the MSG in it makes it much more delicious, but a lot of people don’t think that MSG is something to enjoy in food, but rather something to avoid.

Why would anyone want to avoid something that’s so tasty? Just like with other foods, some people have reactions to it. MSG stands for Monosodium Glutamate, and is a naturally occurring non-essential amino acid used as a flavor enhancer. It was officially discovered in 1908 by Professor Kikunae Ikeda, who isolated the compound from seaweed. The next year, Ajinomoto created a crystallized powder form of MSG and patented it.

It is now found in many of the foods we eat, even if it’s under a slightly different name such as hydrolyzed soy protein. You probably already know that it’s commonly found in Chinese restaurants, but it is also in canned broth, powdered cheese, and other foods. Because it can go by several different names a lot of people aren’t even aware of how much they might be eating.

Here’s the thing though, MSG isn’t evil. I know we were taught to avoid it, and to only go to No MSG Added restaurants. When I was little I couldn’t ever get anyone to tell me what MSG is, or why it’s so bad. As an adult I did my study abroad in Japan, bought what I thought was salt but turned out to be MSG (they look similar, it’s an honest mistake), and decided to research it.

Some of the symptoms people experience when they eat MSG are: headache, flushing, sweating, chest pain, weakness, and several others. This is known as the Chinese Restaurant Syndrome. There have been many tests since people started blaming MSG for these symptoms. However, there has been no conclusive evidence that MSG in particular is at fault. Since I was already addicted to Japannaise (you should try it, it can be found in most Asian markets), I knew I couldn’t have MSG sensitivity.

Like most ingredients, unless you have an intolerance to it, moderation is key. MSG is used to enhance flavors, not supply a flavor of it’s own, so not much is needed. It tends to help create a more savory taste, which led to Americans adopting the Japanese word Umami to mean savory. Umami translates to delicious taste, which is an appropriate name.

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