Do you feel that tiny bit better about your dinner when you see the Chinese restaurant sign that says “No MSG”? For those of us who do, the New York Times has some news for us. We’ve been consuming monosodium glutamate all along, it’s just called something else—like Marmite, Maggi, Kewpie mayonnaise, or Doritos. It’s what gives food umami and depth.
Yes, my friends, MSG is alive and well, and living on your dinner plate.
Since the 1970s, MSG has sidled back onto American supermarket shelves, under assumed names: hydrolyzed proteins, yeast extracts, protein concentrates and other additives that are not labeled as MSG but, according to nutritionists and the United States Department of Agriculture, are essentially the same thing: synthetically produced glutamates.
The article, titled “Yes, MSG, the Secret Behind the Savor,” is an interesting read. Did you know the guy who started the whole umami craze, Kikunae Ikeda, was president of a company that wound up manufacturing MSG? According to the article, “[A] director of the University of Florida’s Center for Smell and Taste, who has studied the sensory effects of MSG for years, believes not only that MSG is harmful to health, but also that it has virtually no effect on the taste of food. ‘All this umami stuff is just marketing,’ she said.”
Whether umami exists, whether MSG is bad for you, it all seems up for debate (one commenter on the Serious Eats site tells of a friend being rushed to the hospital thinking she was having a heart attack, only to be told it was a reaction to MSG. Another claims to hallucinate on MSG!).
One thing is sure—MSG may have joined the witness protection program and changed his name, but don’t let that fool you.