“Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)”
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) continues to be a controversial food additive used around the world. Why are Americans so scared of MSG in their food? It all started in 1968, with a letter in the New England Journal of Medicine. In the letter, Dr. Robert Ho Man Kwok observed that after eating Chinese food he felt numb, sweaty, and otherwise ill. Kwok speculated that MSG might have been the cause and started a decades-long panic in the process. But subsequent studies have repeatedly shown that Dr. Kwok’s thesis was incorrect. For the vast majority of Americans, MSG is totally safe. MSG also known as the fifth taste or umami, is the sodium salt of glutamate — an amino acid naturally occurring in many foods and food additives and an important building block of protein in the body. Glutamate was discovered from kombu seaweed in 1908 by a Japanese professor of physical chemistry, Prof. Kikunae Ikeda. He later extracted the amino acid, dissolved it in water, and neutralized it with sodium hydroxide to form MSG. Glutamate itself is bitter, but MSG has a unique flavor that led Ikeda to coin the term umami, expanding upon four basic tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, and sour. MSG occurs naturally in various foods, such as carrot, onion, cabbage, potato, egg yolk, cheese, soy sauce, anchovies, and shrimp. It is also produced through the fermentation of animal-based or plant-based foods, including molasses, sugarcane, sugar beet, beans, mushrooms, and seaweed.