I like to think of myself as healthy, I try to eat smart and do a little exercise then and again (I go through spurts), but I've got nothing on my friend Kelly. She does pilates and yoga and eats things like quinoa every meal.
Kelly and I were walking down the street the other day looking for a place to eat dinner when I pointed out a promising-looking/smelling dim sum restaurant. "Oh no," she said. "I don't eat Chinese food ever, what with all the MSG."
I told her a lot of Chinese food is actually healthy and that we could order bok choy and tofu and steamed fish, but she wasn't having it. "There's MSG in there," she said. I asked Kelly if she actually knew what MSG is and she admitted to knowing little about it other than it has a scary name--MONOSODIUM GLUTAMATE. Then Kelly asked me how much I know about MSG. "That it tastes good?" I answered. And with that we settled on San Loco, a Mexican hole in the wall three blocks away.
I have since learned just about all the symptoms of MSG Syndrome, or Chinese Restaurant Syndrome as it is nicknamed in the US: headaches, diarrhea, heart palpitations, facial swelling, nausea, and vomiting (among others). I've also learned that studies have repeatedly shown that none of these "symptoms" are caused by normal consumption of MSG and that it is not only found in Chinese food, but in many American processed foods: bags of chips like Doritos, barbeque sauce, parmesan products, canned soups, seasonings, salad dressings, and fast food (KFC, Burger King, etc.).
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a flavor enhancer that stimulates the glutamate receptors on our tongue, giving us a savory flavor much like that of a ripe cheese or cooked meat. People in the food world are starting to refer to this savory taste as the sixth taste, "umami," (Japanase word for "delicious") in addition to the previously identified five tastes of sweet, sour, salty, and bitter.
From what I've been reading, many cooks of various disciplines swear by MSG. I rarely use it in my cooking, but I don't mind if it's added to dishes I eat at Chinese food restaurants. It's approved by the FDA. However, if people still don't want MSG in their diet, they should know that it's not just a Chinese restaurant thing. MSG originally came from Japan and it is mixed in a lot of common foods in American cabinets. I looked at the ingredients in the potato chips I had for lunch have MSG.