MSG!! Good or Bad?

“What’s the deal with MSG?  Is it really harmful to me?
Do Asian cooks still use it?”
Joshua Swanson, LA.

The Japanese have a word for it: “umami”. It’s a “fifth taste”, in addition to salt, sweet, sour, and bitter. MSG is roughly translated as “meatiness”.

MSG is a controversial ingredient and a lot of Asian restaurants have jumped on the bandwagon of being antiMSG-posting signs on their storefronts claiming they do not cook with MSG. My mom still cooks with MSG because it enhances the flavor of whatever she’s cooking and she’s been using if for years. Neither of us has experienced any type of reaction from MSG. However, I want to ensure we answer this from a professional angle, so we are checking in with Mayo Clinic Nutritionalist, Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. for a clinical answer to our questions about MSG.

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a flavor enhancer commonly added to Chinese food, canned vegetables, soups and processed meats. Although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified MSG as a food ingredient that’s “generally recognized as safe,” the use of MSG remains controversial. For this reason, when MSG is added to food, the FDA requires that it be listed on the label.

MSG has been used as a food additive for decades. Over the years, the FDA has received many anecdotal reports of adverse reactions to foods containing MSG. These reactions — known as MSG symptom complex — include:

* Headache
* Flushing
* Sweating
* Facial pressure or tightness
* Numbness, tingling or burning in face, neck and other areas
* Rapid, fluttering heartbeats (heart palpitations)
* Chest pain
* Nausea
* Weakness

However, researchers have found no definitive evidence of a link between MSG and these symptoms. Researchers acknowledge, though, that a small percentage of people may have short-term reactions to MSG. Symptoms are usually mild and don’t require treatment. The only way to prevent a reaction is to avoid foods containing MSG.