Okay, so the image seems a bit dodgy but I can assure you its just MSG……. or is it?
It’s in your fast-food, sauces and crispy chips. MSG or Monosodium Glutamate is a salt of the amino acid ‘glumate acid’. It is a little controversial, considering we don’t exactly know the effects of MSG on out bodies.
MSG was created by isolating the glutamic acid in the seaweed which is used in making the traditional Japanese broth (kombu dashi). A Japanese scientist, Professor Ikeda was the discoverer of the orginal glutamate from kombu, he knew he had discovered the 5th taste known as Umami. By adding glutamte to water and salt he formed MSG, in which people he published his findings had patented before it hit the global market. He had originally created a table condiment known as ‘Aji-no-moto’ which means ‘essence of taste’.
Professor Ikadea then realised that they could save money by making glutamate from products other than seaweed and salt- Instead, fermented molasses (which is a thick dark sugary syrup) or wheat was used to produce MSG.
From this point MSG was recognised as a food additive and according to the World Health Organisation, MSG is a safe food additive.
As we could imagine, Professor Ikeda died a rich man in 1936, and in Japan is known as one of Japan’s greatest inventors.
What does it taste like?
As sugar is to sweet, lemon is to sour, glutamate (in MSG) is to umami. Yes, UMAMI, the 5th taste next to sweet, sour, bitter and salty. It has been described as “meaty” and “savoury”
What is it used for?
If you don’t know or haven’t guessed already MSG is used as a food additive. The food industry use MSG as a “flavour enhancer” because apparently it balances, blends and rounds the perception of other tastes. It is commonly used as a food additive in fast foods and many commercially packaged food products such as potato chips, crackers, soup mixes, dressings, sauces and many many more.
So is it good for you?
MSG is the cause of a huge controversial topic, some do not mind it at all, whereas others are fully against the use and therefore the consumption of MSG-flavoured foods. It is definitely something that you personally need to understand and decide for yourself.
What are some recorded harmful effects?
Some of the recorded harmful effects include headaches, sweating, numbness, nausea and weakness. However, studies have not yet found a link between MSG and these symptoms. However, again like other food products, it is something personal for you as a consumer to decide whether you accept its use or not.
The Guardian brings up a good point- If MSG is so bad why are countries such as Japan (where MSG originates from) not complaining about any of these side effects, in fact, Japanese and Chinese people and especially cooks embrace the use of MSG in their foods.
However, the fact that MSG (which is labelled as a “flavour enhancer”-see image) is added to almost everything in the supermarket besides fresh meat and produce can seem unethical. This includes baby food, chewing gum, bread and many low-fat ready-to-eat dinner meals. Take a look in your pantry and see if you can spot “flavor enhancer” in the ingredients of your foods. Companies are legally obliged to show if they have added to MSG to their products.
It is definitely something I encourage people to look into and decide for themselves whether its for them. If not, you are going to have to cut almost every processed food from your diet- which is not a bad thing.
When I can afford to live on MSG-free foods I will- for now crackers and chocolate biscuits help me through my late study nights.