Food additives are one of the most passionate issues amongst people who eat (which would be everyone). High fructose corn syrup. Salt. Sugar. Trans fats. Polysorbate 80. Some of the angst caused by these additives is that they have scary chemical names. Obviously the “low fructose corn syrup” has got to be better? Right?
But the one food additive that will bring fear to the minds of all consumers of food is MSG. How many times have you been to a Chinese restaurant where they put up signs with NO MSG ADDED. Just so you know, unless that restaurant isn’t using soy sauce (one of the major components of nearly all Chinese food flavorings), the amount of MSG in your Kung Pao Chicken is still quite high, because that soy sauce has more MSG in it than could possibly be added by a shaker of MSG.
MSG has no taste by itself, but it is used by many cooks as a flavor enhancer, improving and enhancing the flavor of almost any food at lower concentrations. The taste that is enhanced by MSG is different than the standard sour, sweet, bitter and salt flavors–it is called “umami,” which also is enhanced by substances like soy sauce. It’s the savory flavor that one finds that is different from the older “four tastes” that chefs used to consider. The flavor enhancing quality of MSG is not well understood, but it’s possible that humans evolved the pleasurable taste of umami as a result of natural selection favoring those who enjoy eating high quality protein foods.
MSG has been used as a flavor enhancer for several thousand years. It is one of the key components of many Asian cuisines, especially Japanese who have extracted MSG from kelp for centuries. The Romans used a sauce called garum, made from fermented fish, that was used instead of more expensive salt. In fact, MSG can be used to mask bad flavors, such as spoiled meat, just like salt.
In science, there is nothing more annoying than a pseudoscientific myth that is propagated to the point where everyone believes it’s a fact. For some odd reason, foods are the center of the pseudoscience universe. Eat organic. Avoid GMO (genetically modified) crops. High fructose corn syrup will kill you. Keep salt off of your food. Don’t eat this. Don’t eat that. Drink this. Don’t drink that. Yet, where is the science? Are organic foods really healthier for you? Will GMO foods harm you?
Of all the annoying myths, there’s one that is the most bothersome. MSG, or monosodium glutamate, gets the most exposure as an evil additive to foods. Yet, what is the evidence? Does it really do anything?
(more…) «MSG-fussing about nothing»