MSG: The Facts and The Myths

While many question the safety of MSG and accuse it of making us fat and causing allergic reactions (and more!), MSG is a natural product.

When you shop, do you check food labels for MSG? Is MSG a dealbreaker for you, causing you to leave products on the shelf and continue shopping? Many articles claim that MSG is why Americans are obese or that you could be experiencing allergic reactions to MSG without being aware of the cause. Some people claim that your health will improve drastically if you cut all MSG out of your diet. These are bold claims and should not be considered lightly or just in passing. MSG deserves research on a deeper level, and there is a wealth of facts on MSG that may surprise you.

What is MSG?

Many people don’t know that MSG is not some artificial chemical added to our foods. It’s not artificial at all. It occurs naturally in many foods that you eat every day. Corn, tomatoes, mushrooms, chicken, potatoes, beef, eggs, walnuts, and parmesan cheese are a few specific examples. MSG is the sodium salt portion of the natural amino acid glutamic acid, which occurs naturally in many vegetables, making up 10-25% of all protein from plants and meats. People may be up in arms about MSG being sprayed onto vegetables, but if they did some research, they would know that MSG is already in those same vegetables. Our bodies need MSG, and we produce 40 grams of it daily!

A Little MSG History

MSG is not something new, although all of the negativity towards it seems to have blown up in the past few years. MSG has been used as a taste enhancer for more than a century. Professor Kikunae Ikeda extracted MSG from Seaweed back in 1908 and found it crystallized quickly and produced a delicious flavor. He named the flavor umami since it was unique and not one of them already recognized flavor types of sweet, salty, sour, or bitter. Later, after perfecting his extraction and crystallization techniques, he patented this product as MSG. A couple of different methods produced MSG until the early 1970s when the current production method was developed.

How is MSG made?

As mentioned earlier in this article, MSG is not chemically produced. Instead, it is developed through a natural fermentation process. Fermentation, yes, as in the same method used to make beer. Cassava roots are dug out, cleansed, and peeled. They are then mashed, and the starch is extracted from the seeds. This extracted “starch milk” is refined and then hydrolyzed into glucose syrup. Finally, the fermentation process begins, with bacteria being added to the liquid to digest the carbohydrate in the milk. After several sterilization cycles and filtration, the MSG is concentrated by evaporation and solidified into crystals. Alternatively, you can see that this is an entirely regular occurrence. No chemicals are added, only more substances found in nature, substances that do not cause harm.

MSG Allergies, Obesity, and Other Myths

The University of Nebraska conducted several studies as well as considering existing research on obesity and MSG allergies, including the infamous “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome,” and concluded that :

“No evidence suggests that adverse reactions occur to the level of MSG found in the typical consumer’s diet either as the naturally occurring amino acid or its use as a flavor enhancer. The existing evidence indicates that free glutamic acid/MSG is safe for consumption for consumers. If any adverse reactions occur, they occur only in rarely encountered individuals who ingest very high amounts of MSG on an empty stomach. Many foods contain naturally high levels of free glutamic acid.”

Several additional investigations have reached a similar finding. Yet, while science is trying to point this out to the public, the public seems to be running with the anti-MSG craze, experiencing symptoms just because they read about them.

Don’t Be Afraid of the MSG!

Many people eat MSG regularly, and you probably consume more MSG than you are even aware of. In some cases, MSG is listed on food labels as “Natural Flavoring” because it is, in fact, natural. It enhances the flavor of your food in a subtle but very distinct way and helps your frozen or packaged food retain its flavor. It’s time to look at the fundamental scientific research and ignore all of the negative hype. MSG does many positive things for our enjoyment of food- let’s embrace it!

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