For decades, monosodium glutamate, or MSG (a sodium salt of glutamic acid), has remained controversial due to a myth that made it one of the most infamous additives in the food industry.
But while many households avoid using the product, a food scientist is making a case for putting the negative connotations against MSG to rest.
According to Dr. Steve Witherly, MSG, which he calls “supersalt”, is actually good for human consumption. In fact, he even pushes his kids include it in their regular diet, as sprinkling some of it can encourage them to eat more vegetables.
In an interview, Witherly told Business Insider:
“I like to encourage my kids to eat a little healthier, so I’ll sprinkle a little supersalt in there. That stuff is really powerful. For example, I had a whole-wheat pizza—and my kids hate whole wheat—so I put a little supersalt in the tomato sauce, and they sucked that whole thing down. Broccoli is tremendous if you add butter, garlic, and supersalt,”
The reason for most people’s concern about MSG dates back to a 1968 report which blamed it for something called “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.” Claimed symptoms of the supposed reaction to MSG include having a headache, skin flushing, and sweating. However, there’s minimal scientific evidence linking MSG to these symptoms in humans.
Witherly pointed out that while MSG has been largely maligned over decades, researchers have found no definitive evidence of it being harmful when taken in small amounts.
Even the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it is “generally recognized as safe.”
“We had research at UC Davis, when I was there, where we drank tumblers of it at about 25 grams, and nothing happened,” Witherly explained.
Researchers, however, acknowledge that there is a small percentage of people may exhibit short-term reactions to MSG. Such symptoms are generally mild and don’t even require treatment.
The American Chemical Society has this to say: “MSG can temporarily affect a select few when consumed in huge quantities on an empty stomach, but it’s perfectly safe for the vast majority of people.”
It is also worth noting that MSG occurs naturally in tomatoes, mushrooms, cheese and other food and should be considered as a natural type of additive.
First prepared in 1908 by Japanese biochemist Kikunae Ikeda, MSG is known to enhance flavor in food by balancing, blending, and rounding the perception of other tastes. It is now widely used in the food industry as a flavor enhancer with an umami (savory) taste that intensifies the meaty, savory flavor of food.