- Will Wei, Business Insider
- People are freaking out because McDonald’s is testing a new chicken sandwich that contains MSG.
- But MSG is actually harmless, despite what many consumers think.
- The idea that MSG is harmful or unhealthy is actually a myth, and one with both no scientific evidence to back it up and long, fraught ties to racist stereotypes.
- Here’s why you shouldn’t care about MSG.
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McDonald’s is trying something new with its most recent attempt at a crowd-pleasing chicken sandwich.
It’s testing a new sandwich that contains MSG, or monosodium glutamate, a move that has caused some fans to freak out over health concerns. The sandwich is being trialed at locations in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Houston, Texas. Bloomberg noted that Chick-fil-A and Popeyes both also use MSG in their chicken.
I just found out Chick Fil A used MSG (which I’m allergic to) in their chicken. Makes sense why I always get sick after eating there… the point is that Red 40 and MSG are in so many things with no warning and are non-labeled!!!!
— mckenzie ???? (@McKenzieDewese) January 15, 2020
McDonalds new chicken sandwich contains MSG! Awful! @McDonalds — They are selling their souls to the devil to gain revenue…at our expense…
— Lew88 (@Lewisisthename) January 15, 2020
Also have to remove Chick-fil-A…. https://t.co/lkygmWx8XU
— WAOWGT (@WAOWGT) January 14, 2020
“We are always listening to our customers regarding our menu offerings,” a McDonald’s representative told Business Insider’s Kate Taylor in response to her reporting on the new sandwich. “So far, our customers in Houston and Knoxville have had a positive response to the test of our Crispy Chicken Sandwich and Deluxe Crispy Chicken sandwich. The test will continue for a few more weeks and the feedback from customers will inform our decisions moving forward.”
The thing is, MSG is in everything. It’s in snack foods and canned soups, and its natural form, glutamate, occurs in countless natural foods, including Parmesan cheese and fresh tomatoes. The human body even produces glutamate when we eat.
But despite all the hubbub about MSG, it’s actually harmless. MSG is just glutamate stabilized with sodium (salt). Hence, the name: monosodium glutamate.
The reason MSG is so controversial traces to its racially fraught history and Asian origins.
- Will Wei, Business Insider
The ‘mysterious white powder of the Orient’
MSG was first invented in 1908 by a Japanese scientist who figured out how to isolate the umami – or savory – flavor in seaweed by stabilizing it with sodium. MSG spread quickly through Asia and then out from there. It was wildly popular because it made everything taste umami.
Even though it quickly achieved mainstream popularity in the west, MSG always had an aura of exoticism around it. One 1953 cookbook referred to it as the “mysterious white powder of the Orient.”
Then, in 1968, a scientist submitted a complaint to a medical journal, saying he was suffering from headaches, dizziness, and heart palpitations. The only possible culprit he could think of? All the MSG in the Americanized Chinese food he was eating. From then on, it became an old wives’ tale: the MSG in American Chinese food causes health problems.
- Irene Jiang / Business Insider
The myth of MSG
However, no credible scientific studies have shown that MSG causes negative health effects. In fact, countless studies and tests have been conducted by private companies and regulatory bodies, and all came to the same conclusion: there is no scientific evidence linking MSG consumption to any of the symptoms it is popularly believed to cause.
Yet, the popular belief that MSG is poison persists. And it’s a racist myth, tied closely to deep-seated stereotypes of Americanized Chinese food as being dirty and unhealthy – the same stereotypes that led Instagram-famous nutritionist Arielle Haspel to open (and close) a “less icky” Chinese restaurant in New York’s East Village.
Prominent Asian-American celebrities took to Twitter to express their frustration about the media coverage of the addition of MSG to McDonald’s new crispy chicken sandwich.
Where are all the complaints of headaches and nausea?? Chinese Restaurant Syndrome my ass. https://t.co/quKe5hH1Kv
— Dave Chang (@davidchang) January 14, 2020
Hi Time Magazine. There's nothing wrong with MSG. That's from some racist stereotype against Asian food back in the 1980s..
— Wesley Chu (@wes_chu) January 14, 2020
So if MSG is harmless, then where does that leave the consumer?
Free as a bird to cook with MSG, as many of today’s top chefs advise. And free to consume foods that contain MSG, which are many foods.