It's time to know the facts about MSG
“YOU KNOW WHAT CAUSES CHINESE RESTAURANT SYNDROME? RACISM.”
- ANTHONY BOURDAIN
In most countries, people love MSG. It's a pantry staple trusted by chefs and grandmothers alike, known for bringing delicious umami flavor to countless dishes. Yet in the US, the myth of “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” and the deep‐rooted xenophobia that inspired it have scared people away from enjoying the culinary magic of MSG (aka monosodium glutamate).
It is time to know the facts.
Umami has been a staple taste in cuisines throughout history, but the story of MSG, or umami seasoning, began in 1908. Tokyo scientist Dr. Kikunae Ikeda was enjoying a bowl of kombu dashi - traditional Japanese seaweed broth - and noticed that the seaweed imparted a uniquely savory taste he had also experienced in Germany with tomatoes, asparagus, meat, and cheeses. Through his research, Dr. Ikeda discovered that this taste was different from any of the established four basic tastes (sweet, salty, sour, and bitter) and that it could be attributed to glutamate, a naturally-occurring amino acid that is present in the human body and in a variety of foods. It is the ‘G’ in MSG. He coined this new taste “umami,” creating the first umami seasoning, also known as MSG! MSG is a seasoning that offers the purest form of umami, the fifth taste.
The Xenophobic Myths around MSG
So how did MSG go from that, to an ingredient considered harmful? Misconceptions about MSG began to form in 1968 after the New England Journal of Medicine published a letter they received detailing one person’s anecdotal symptoms he experienced after eating at a Chinese restaurant. While he never claimed his symptoms were caused by MSG, the letter gave rise to the term “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome,” and the myth that MSG was unsafe began to spread, further fueled by anti-Asian xenophobia and flawed studies.
It wasn’t until 1995 that the FDA declared there is no link between MSG and the alleged symptoms of “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome,” but these negative perceptions of MSG and the cultural prejudices and misinformation they were founded on continue to prevail.
Get to know MSG
Without a doubt, the decades long xenophobic myths and misinformation around MSG - and the “No MSG” symbol that pervades restaurant windows, grocery shelves, and foods products - are extremely harmful to the representation of Asian culture and cuisine, so let’s set the record straight with facts and really get to know MSG, rather than saying no to MSG:
- MSG is a seasoning made from fermentation, a process that starts with plants like corn, sugar cane, and cassava root, and is confirmed to be safe for consumption by the FDA, Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), and many other health organizations around the world.
- MSG is a quick and easy way to deliver savory deliciousness to foods, especially plant-based dishes. In fact, MSG has been shown in studies to enhance the palatability of better-for-you foods like whole grains and vegetables.
- MSG has 2/3 less sodium than table salt, and it can be used in the place of some salt to reduce the sodium in a dish without compromising flavor.
- MSG is everywhere: glutamate is naturally occurring in many foods like tomatoes, meats, and cheeses, and also found in crowd pleasers from brands such as Chick-fil-A, Hidden Valley Ranch, Cheetos, and Doritos.
We can all spread the good word about MSG and celebrate all the bold and diverse flavors of Asian cuisine! In 2020, a new ‘Know MSG’ symbol (shown on this page) was created to challenge misconceptions and support a more inclusive and informed food culture. The symbol is available for open use by any brand, restaurant or company that wants to celebrate their use of MSG and help consumers understand the safety and deliciousness of this flavor-building ingredient.
Interested in helping spread the truth about MSG?
Visit KnowMSG.com to learn more about MSG and its history.