MSG – Is It As Bad As They Say?

There are a few myths regarding MSG, a somewhat controversial flavor enhancer that is used in many foods. MSG is often found in Asian dishes but can be found in many other types of food as well. Discovered by a Japanese professor in 1908, MSG was first derived from seaweed. 

These days, many people view MSG as a sort of pariah, yet there’s little evidence that it poses any danger. Further, MSG is useful around the kitchen. That’s why we’re going to examine some MSG myths. We’ll start by addressing the elephant in the room: is MSG bad for your health? After that, we’ll look at a few other common myths.

How the Hysteria All Started

In 1968 Robert Ho Man Kwok, a medical researcher, found himself contracting a strange illness whenever he ate at Chinese restaurants that cooked with MSG. Kwok came to the conclusion that the MSG was the cause of his illness and wrote to New England Journal of Medicine to make his case. Whether intentionally or not, Kwok set off a firestorm with consumers and food companies quickly shunning the ingredient.

Kwok claimed that foods containing MSG caused him to experience numbness, weakness, and heart palpitations. After decades of research we have plenty of evidence to counteract the fact that MSG is not in fact a dangerous ingredient. Countless studies have been conducted over the years and most have concluded that MSG, a sodium salt derived from glutamic acid, is harmless when consumed in moderation. 

Both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) have investigated MSG and have not been able to back up Kwok’s claims. FASEB now believes that MSG is safe for consumption.

Maybe Kwok suffered some unique sensitivity, or maybe MSG had nothing at all to do with his mysterious illness. Either way, most people can consume foods with MSG in it without any worries. 

MSG Myth #2- Foods Without Added-MSG Are MSG-Free

There’s a common assumption that MSG is always an additive. However, MSG occurs naturally and is found in many foods. You’ll find naturally occurring MSG in fish sauce, parmesan cheese, green tea, cured ham, grape juice, cheddar cheese, tomatoes, and many other foods. Despite the fact that many foods are naturally loaded with MSG, you rarely hear about people getting sick from eating them. 

MSG Myth #3- You Can’t Be Allergic to MSG (But You May Be Sensitive)

MSG isn’t considered an allergen. However, the FDA has found that a small number of people who ate large amounts of MSG on an empty stomach did prove sensitive to it. For the vast majority of consumers, MSG caused no reaction or sensitivity. It may be possible that some people are sensitive and do react to MSG but this is likely very rare.

Clearing Up the Misunderstanding

Having debunked the above MSG myths, it seems pretty obvious that there’s no real reason to avoid this flavor enhancer. Regardless, 4 in 10 Americans still avoid MSG. This could ultimately be a loss for your taste buds.

On its own, MSG doesn’t have much of a flavor. Yet when you add it to food, it can increase its savoriness and improve its overall flavor profile. For chefs, MSG is a very useful ingredient when used appropriately and can really make food stand out. When sourced properly, MSG is a kosher ingredient and can be derived naturally as well.

Stop by Holy Schnitzel today for the best kosher food you’ve had!