What is MSG and why am I supposed to hate it? Ever walk past a Chinese restaurant with a “NO MSG” sign hanging on the window and wondered what it meant? Is this mom and pop shop so picky about people using their phones at the table that their strict rules manifest themselves as delicious Engrish signage? Or do they hate the Montreal Society of Geologist so much that they refuse to serve them? Today, I’m going to give you the straight up about Monosodium Glutamate and tell you why you should love it.
Asian cuisine – Chinese cuisine more specifically – is synonymous with the magical cooking additive known as “MSG”. Shrouded in mystery, the only thing commonly known about this magical ingredient is that it makes things taste good but it comes at a price.
The culprit of headaches, extreme thirst, nausea, heartburn, indigestion, upset stomach and diarrhea post chow-fest at your favorite Chinese restaurant is an actual thing called “The Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” (CRS).
Monosodium glutamate was developed by a Japanese Professor, Kidunae Ikeda from the Tokyo Imperial University at the turn of the 19th century. He noticed that when his old lady made soup with kelp, the flavor was off the chain and tickled his tongue in a way she never did, in a spot he never knew existed. Naming this “the fifth taste” – Umami (a taste that’s salty and savoury unlike anything else), he got in his lab and managed to isolate the naturally occurring amino acid in the seaweed (glutamate) that stimulated taste receptors on the tongue and later bound the molecule to the water-soluble salt for food preparation and consumption.
So without getting too technical, MSG is “Yum-Yum-powder” – sold in stores to be included in your favorite dishes to enhance the taste. Many will argue the phenomenon of CRS, but studies show that it has been proven MSG does not affect the body in the way it has been reported.
Jeffery Steingarten – food critic and writer once said, “If MSG is so bad for you, why doesn’t everyone in Asia have a headache?” Only headaches I get are the ones form my mom telling me not to eat so much and the ones from bacon telling me not to listen to my mom.
So explain the symptoms people experience after a bout with Cantonese chow mein or sweet and sour pork, you ask. MASS-PSYCHOSIS. We’ve been warned as a society to be on the lookout for these symptoms, trained and conditioned to be alarmed at the first thought of ill-feelings after scarfing down sugar loaded General Tao, honey garlic ribs and three bottles of Tsingtao and to find a scapegoat ridding ourself of gluttonous guilt and a week’s worth of calories.
Hypocrisy. Aged beef, parmesan, and even tomatoes contain MSG, but when was the last time you heard, “DAMN… this 30 day dry-aged $65 dollar steak is giving me a headache!” Never. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a small percentage of people who may suffer short term reactions to MSG, but for those who are “allergic”, take note the next time you’re eating at a steakhouse and see how fast the Chinese Restaurant Syndrome hits you. Chances are it won’t because you wouldn’t have willed yourself to experience the symptoms by societal suggestive conditioning.
“The fifth taste” – Umami – “The sensation of umami is due to the detection of the carboxylate anion of glutamate in specialized receptor cells present on the human and other animal tongues.” My theory: like how snakes stopped producing legs over millennia of evolution, cassettes turned into CDs, Amanda Bines became… what ever the hell she is now, if we condition ourselves to detect and taste umami through the aid of MSG, we will eventually be able to taste heightened levels of flavor in food naturally thus being able to eliminate MSG altogether and reducing the necessity of sodium in our every day lives.
Until then, insider tip, drink Orange Crush with your Chinese food, thank me later.