MSG: The flavorful controversy

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People like food, especially in this country, where unfortunately some people love it too much. Everyone likes to eat something different, exotic-sounding, foreign cheese, wines, caviars, but does anyone really want an amino acid? Chemical additives such as MSG, monosodium glutamate, have been the cause of many debates over their use in foods. MSG is formed from the amino acid, glutamic acid, sodium, and water. It is naturally produces in meat, vegetables, fruits, and in the body.

Found in both “free”, and “bound” forms, the free form is an effective flavor enhancer. Discovered over 1200 years ago in the orient from fermentation of the seaweed Laminaria Japonica, it has been used ever since as a flavor enhancer. It has no flavor of its own, but amplifies flavors and masks bad tastes. It is due to this property that the food industry has used and abused it. They created propaganda to promote the use of this product. To them it must have seemed a miracle to have this additive that makes their products better.

Although it was not created by man, and is present in nature, it is the mass production and unnatural addition of MSG that is a problem. At the time of World War II, totally preposterous, unclean studies “proved” that MSG was the reason that the Japanese soldiers had a lot of energy. It was then marketed as a table spice, Accent, intended to mingle with the Salt and Pepper shakers. Upon inspection, they should have known that the energy in the soldiers could come from anything from political beliefs to psychological factors.

It has almost created a 5th taste, umami, to add to salt, sweet, sour, and bitter. It has also created some health risks. A letter was published about discomfort after eating Chinese food which is known to contain MSG which awoke the world unto the problem of the “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome”, which was described as a complex of symptoms consisting of feelings of burning or warmth, pressure or tightness and numbness or tingling of the face, neck, upper chest, shoulders and upper arms, sometimes accompanied by chest pain.

People who are MSG sensitive have protested and filed lawsuits to try and have the substance banned. Protestors have threatened to burn themselves to stop stored from buying MSG laced products. This reaction is mainly due to the allergy that some people suffer from. They need MSG to be clearly shown on labels, if not removed completely from the food industry. MSG cannot be used, like it has been before, as the scapegoat for all food-related problems. It actually contains less sodium than table salt, and, as mentioned before, is naturally found in our bodies and throughout nature.

The problem lies in the fact that foods are having a chemical added to them that would not be there if not for our curiosity, and the industry’s fiscal benefit. Studies have shown that MSG may get into the brains of young children and could cause problems due to the immaturity in namely the pituitary gland, hypothalamus, retina, and hormones. When considering the possibility versus the benefit, MSG seems to be unimportant and more dangerous. We don’t need this additive in our foods.

As safe as they say it is, there are no benefits other than enhanced taste, which can be acquired using other means, such as rosemary, oregano and thyme. It is time that we eat more naturally. Not stuffing ourselves at “meal time”, but rather eating naturally, when hungry. Keeping foods clean of MSG may not solve problems for many people, but it could prevent adverse effects, and it does for sure to those who have an allergy. Thankfully MSG is now required to be displayed on all products that contain it. We should eliminate this unnatural addition. Keeping our diet clean of such products can only benefit our health.

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