MSG is great

December 9, 2007 at 10:45 pm 2 comments

today i will dispell a myth about msg.

myth: msg is unhealthy.

first, what is msg? msg, or monosodium glutamate, is the sodium salt of glutamic acid, an amino acid, the stuff that proteins are made out of. msg is used as a flavor enhancer in many asian foods and it harmonizes well with salty and sour tastes. the msg used in foods is isolated from starch or molasses from sugar cane or sugar beets.

although glutamic acid had been isolated in 1866 by the german chemist karl ritthausen, it was not until 1908 that its flavor-enhancing potential was noticed by kikunae ikeda of japan. before this, japanese chefs used seaweed broth as a flavor enhancer, now knowing that glutamic acid was its flavor-enhancing component. after its isolation, ikeda noted that it had a distinctive taste, different from sweet, sour, bitter and salty (the flavors in classical flavor theory) and he gave this taste the name “umami.”

enough of history. all of you just want to know if msg is bad for you. the answer is no. msg is not bad for you.

msg is found naturally in many foods, including cow milk, beef, chicken, seaweed, mushroom, tomatoes, and parmesan cheese. actually, parmesan cheese contains 1200 mg of msg per 100 g of cheese, making it the food with the most msg in it. our livers naturally produce a lot of msg – about 50x more in one day than the amount that is ingested during a typical chinese takeout meal.

what about those people who claim to be allergic to msg, a condition also called chinese restaurant syndrome (CRS)?

looking at the foods above, these same people should also be extremely allergic to mushroom pizza, which contains tomatoes, cheese, and mushrooms, all good sources of msg. ive never heard of anyone being allergic to pizza though.

a study conducted in the 70’s further showed that msg allergies were largely psychosomatic. a large sample of people were taken who claimed to be allergic to msg. symptoms were burning sensation on the neck, forearms, and chest, numbess of neck and back, and chest pains and comiting. various ethnic foods were presented to them over the course of a week. a random portion of these dishes contained msg but people only reported adverse reactions to the dishes from asian cuisine, regardless of whether msg was present in those foods. other dishes containing msg did not cause any reactions in the subjects.
anyways, msg is safe to use a food additive. just dont use too much. if you put too much msg in a food, it becomes slightly bitter.

references:
Food Chemistry, 2nd ed., Belitz and Grosch 1996.

Principles of Food Chemistry, 3rd ed., deMann 1999.

Lecture by Dr. Rui Hai Liu, Cornell University Department of Food Science, Spring 2005.

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