Tasty Trouble

Chinese food has got to be some of the best comfort food there is. And if you get it from the right restaurants it can be pretty tasty. Maybe I’m a little weird but there’s nothing like sitting down to a plate of Chinese takeout after an all-day drive. I even had it for dinner the other night. But growing up I’ve always heard that much of Asian cuisine in particular contains monosodium glutamate, or MSG. Well okay, but what is MSG, really? I mean, if it serves a good purpose in the food I love to eat, it’s fine, right? Well today I finally decided to conduct some research on this food additive and what it does to our bodies.

Monosodium glutamate was first discovered in 1908 by Kikunae Ikeda. He learned he could extract an amino acid called glutamic acid from seaweed to enhance the flavor of foods. It wasn’t until the late 1940s, however, that it appeared in the United States. And by the 1960s, the leading brand of MSG called “Accent” was a common household item. Now we see this ingredient everywhere including Asian dishes, canned goods, and fertilizers.

Essentially, MSG is a food additive that increases savory (or umami) flavors, while also enhancing other flavors in the same dish. For example, MSG is added to many chicken entrees to multiply the umami one tastes on the chicken, as well as deepening the fullness of the sauces and sides.

Okay, I understand where MSG came from now. But is it bad? Do I have to stop eating my comfort food??

Consuming monosodium glutamate, especially in large quantities, can often produce less than pleasant side effects. Just to name a few:

  • headaches
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • skin rashes
  • ringing ears
  • intense thirst
  • irregular heartbeat
  • excessive sweating

Maybe you don’t consume MSG in large quantities, but when you eat out at that favorite Asian restaurant of yours, you never truly know how much their cooks add to that General Tso Chicken or Sweet and Sour Chicken you just ordered. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve definitely experienced that slowed heartbeat and intense thirst after eating a meal loaded with MSG.

These side effects may not be that detrimental to one’s health, but what if I told you MSG has been discovered to be linked to autism? Here is a flow chart created by Carol A. Hoemlein that shows how the consumption of MSG can lead to autism.

Now you will have to come to your own conclusions about the reality of health risks of MSG, but reaching the end of my research on monosodium glutamate, I think I can confidently conclude that this particular food additive is bad. This makes me wonder where MSG might be lurking in my own home. It can be found in canned soups, salad dressings, bouillon cubes, instant noodles, cold cuts, and hotdogs – basically everywhere in my fridge and pantry. Sometimes MSG is hiding behind names like hydrolyzed protein and sodium caseinate, which makes the likelihood of its presence in our homes even higher. This is a substance that is becoming more and more common, just like every other modified ingredient, but my hope is to extinguish the usage of monosodium glutamate in my home. For my family’s sake.

What’s in your pantry?