If you go to Dan's house for dinner, one ingredient will almost certainly be on the menu: monosodium glutamate, better known as MSG.
But he probably won't tell you about it because people FREAK OUT about MSG -- even though glutamate is in everything from tomatoes to breast milk to YOUR BODY RIGHT NOW. It's basically just umami, that savory flavor that takes any food to another level.
"I think that there’s been so much crap built around the condemnation of of MSG," says cookbook author Andrea Nguyen, who sometimes finishes her homemade pho with MSG. "People have so many fears about it."
It all started in 1968, when Dr. Robert Kwok wrote a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine describing some strange symptoms he had after eating Chinese restaurant food.
Dr. Kwok suggested that maybe it was the MSG in the food, and he coined the term Chinese Restaurant Syndrome. Tons of people came forward with similar complaints, and the thing just snowballed.
Fifty years later, people are still scared to eat MSG -- even though science hasn't proven that it's actually harmful.
"They took enormous amounts of MSG and injected it under the skin of mice to see if problems occurred, and it did," says Dr. Aaron Carroll, the author of several books that debunk myths about food and health.
"But no one is suggesting that human beings should inject huge amounts of MSG under their skin," Dr. Carroll adds.
This week on The Sporkful we're exploring the case against MSG.
We'll dig into the science, and we'll delve into the role that race and class have played in spreading misconceptions about MSG.
"I do think there’s a slight racist edge to it," Nguyen (above in her kitchen) says. "When people don’t understand something...all of the sudden it becomes exotic, mysterious, and easy to attack."
Listen in to the episode to hear the full conversation. Plus, Dan and food writer Kevin Pang tell us how to use MSG to make the best Bloody Mary you’ve ever tasted.
Interstitial music in this episode from Black Label Music:
- "Bandstand" by Jack Ventimiglia
- "Comin' For A Change" by Stephen Clinton Sullivan
- "Clean" by JT Bates
- "Hound Dog" by Jason Mickelson
Photos: Dan Pashman, FlickrCC/Simon Lieschke, and courtesy of Kevin Pang, Andrea Nguyen, and Aaron Carroll