Perception on MSG changing after 55 years of bad review

Study linking flavour to a syndrome was debunked as false but myths remained.

In Summary
  • MSG is found naturally in some foods including tomatoes and cheese in glutamic acid form.
  • A 2019 review of scientific literature in Food Science and Food Safety found that claims linking MSG to an assortment of ailments were unsubstantiated.
Creamy garlic shrimp with tails not removed
Creamy garlic shrimp with tails not removed

The perception behind the use of Monosodium glutamate, commonly known as MSG, is taking a turn for the better in the US.

After over 100 years since invention of the common flavour enhancer, more people are warming to the idea of eating foods that contain the flavour.

It is usually derived from L-glumatoc, naturally occurring acid found in certain foods.

The additive is found in Chinese recipes, canned vegetables and soups, and other processed goods.

In an interview with CNN, the owner of a New York-based Cantonese-American restaurant Bonnie, Calvin Eng is a proud user of MSG.

Eng, whose love for MSG is apparent on the "MSG" tattoo on his arm, said they use the flavour in almost every thing on their menu. 

"Things just taste better with MSG, whether it’s Western food or Cantonese food," he told CNN.

"We use it in drinks. We use it in desserts. We use it in savory food. It's in almost everything. Salt, sugar and MSG – I always joke that they’re the Chinese Trinity of seasonings."

Bonnie which is at Brooklyn, was opened in 2021 and is among the most visited restaurants in New York.

It has also won many Best New Restaurant awards from multiple media outlets, with Eng being named one of the best new chefs of 2022 by the Food and Wine Magazine. 

He was also featured in the 2023 Forbes 30 under 30 list.

Japanese chemist named Kikunae Ikeda founded the MSG in 1907 from seaweed, extracting glutamate, which he discovered had unique flavour-enhancing properties.

He called the taste "umami" and proceeded to break the substance down into MSG, this could be crystallised and be used like sugar and salt. 

The seasoning gained popularity across the world, leading to an 'adoption'  by the US military after World War II.

Then, the military held the first-ever MSG symposium to discuss how MSG could be used to make tastier field rations and boost soldiers' morale.

In 1968, however, a letter in the New England Journal of Medicine Chinese Restaurant Syndrome written by an American doctor downed the rally behind the seasoning. 

Symptoms of Chinese Restaurant Syndrome included numbness of the neck, arms and back with headache, dizziness and palpitations which he believed were caused by food, especially Chinese food heavily seasoned with MSG.

Even though the letter was uncovered as a hoax, the myths remained and consequently, their damaging effects.

With time, however, the US Food and Drug Administration has approved MSG for consumption, and studies have failed to show that the chemical causes the alleged "syndrome".

A 2019 review of scientific literature in the journal Food Science and Food Safety found that claims linking MSG to an assortment of ailments were unsubstantiated.

Glutamate, which makes MSG, is naturally found in breast milk, seafood, mushrooms, peas, nuts, onions, tomatoes and parmesan cheese.

Further, the compound is plant-based.

WATCH: The latest videos from the Star