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MSG: Not The Devil We Thought It Was?

A Chinese banquet has historically been frowned upon if it contains MSG.

MSG: Not The Devil We Thought It Was?

Blamed for everything from headaches to chest pain, MSG has been become a definite dietary no-no. But now, some chefs say the picketing is nonsense.

MSG: Not The Devil We Thought It Was?

The powder has been emptied from the tin and crossed off the recipe. For so many years now, MSG, or otherwise known as Ve-Tsin, has become a villain. Unbelievably tasty food is its poison and “Chinese restaurant syndrome” is the result. It starts with nausea, and headaches, but does it come with a side of potential nonsense?

Heston Blumenthal, a UK chef whose Fat Duck restaurant has three Michelin stars, is an advocate of MSG. “The biggest old wives’ tale,” he says, “Complete and utter nonsense. There is not one [scientific] paper to prove that [it’s harmful].” David Chang, founder of the famous US Momofuku food group, shares the same opinion. David makes the point that we’re primed to believe that only natural is safe and that scientific means scary. “It’s just a sodium ion attached to glutamate,” he says about MSG, “which is something your body produces naturally and needs to function. True, MSG doesn’t exist in nature; it’s a scientific invention. But multiple studies have failed to show that it makes anyone sick. It only makes food taste delicious.”

Chemically speaking, no analytical method can differentiate between added and naturally occurring glutamate. But whether they have different effects on our health is a much bigger question. At the end of the day, our analysis of MSG may be more philosophical than chemical. But hopefully, for those of us who would like to enjoy Chinese without fearing a fever, more research will be done to clarify this soon.

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