Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

MSG Is More Common in Your Food Than You Probably Realize

Health + Wellness
Augusta National / Getty Images

By Bob Curley

  • The new chicken sandwiches at McDonald's, Popeyes, and Chick-fil-A all contain the MSG flavor enhancement chemical.
  • Experts say MSG can enhance the so-called umami flavor of a food.
  • The ingredient is found in everything from Chinese food and pizza to prepackaged sandwiches and table sauces.

McDonald's wants to get in on the chicken sandwich war currently being waged between Popeyes and Chick-fil-A.


And the fast food chain is reportedly looking to a controversial ingredient most commonly associated with Chinese food to give its sandwiches a flavor boost.

Monosodium glutamate, or MSG, is a key ingredient in a pair of chicken sandwiches being test marketed by McDonald's in 230 restaurants in Texas and Tennessee, according to CBS News.

The rival chicken sandwiches from Popeyes and Chick-fil-A also contain MSG.

The news represents something of a comeback for MSG — a flavor enhancer commonly found in Asian food — that's been the subject of health concerns going back decades.

"The consensus, according to the [Food and Drug Administration], is that MSG is generally recognized as safe," Jackie Elnahar, a registered dietitian and founder of TelaDietitian, told Healthline. "However, there are a small minority of people who tend to be more sensitive to MSG and they can experience headaches, flushing, and nausea."

That includes Alan Watson, 65, a retiree from South Carolina, who told Healthline that he's had severe reactions to MSG for more than 15 years, most commonly after eating Chinese food or hot dogs.

"If I have even a little bit of MSG in food it starts as a headache in the base of my neck and moves up to the top of my head," said Watson. "It's almost like a full-blown migraine that can last all day."

"There's really no purpose for MSG other than flavoring, so I wish restaurants would stop using it completely," he added. "At this point I will only eat Chinese food if the restaurant assures me there is not MSG anywhere in the building."

‘Umami’ Enhancer

MSG is perceived as an "artificial ingredient," but Anju Mobin, managing editor of BestofNutrition.com, told Healthline that MSG is "a common amino acid naturally found in foods like tomatoes and cheese, which people then figured out how to extract and ferment — a process similar to how we make yogurt and wine."

While people like Watson may experience headaches, nausea, flushing, and other symptoms after consuming MSG, it remains a popular food ingredient particularly because of its ability to enhance "umami," a category of taste (such as sweet, sour, and salty) in food that corresponds to the flavor of glutamates.

"It makes food taste good even with less salt and fat," said Mobin.

"Monosodium glutamate is naturally occurring in many foods and adds a wonderful burst of umami flavor to dishes," said Ellie Golemb, chef of Culinarie Kit and Ghost Vegan.

Heloise Blaure, a chef and blogger at HomeKitchenLand.com, calls MSG the "best source of umami flavors."

"Making something taste sweet or salty is easy. All you have to do is add some sugar or salt to your recipe," Blaure told Healthline. "But enhancing the umami flavors in your food can be far more difficult."

"High-quality meat like wild elk and grass-fed beef have a strong umami flavor, but the stuff you buy on sale at the grocery store usually doesn't," Blaure continued. "Sprinkling a bit of MSG on your dish gives it a much meatier, more savory appeal."

Blaure said the reason it's hard to duplicate the flavor of movie theater popcorn at home is because the stuff they sell in theaters contains MSG.

"You can have theater-quality popcorn at home [by] drizzling melted butter over plain popcorn and topping it with a sprinkle of MSG," she said.

Other foods that commonly contain MSG include fried chicken, pizza, sausage, cheese, canned and packet soups, seasonings, powdered gravy granules, stock and bouillon cubes, cold meat cuts, table sauces like soy sauce, salty snacks, prepackaged sandwiches, and instant noodles.

"MSG has seamlessly worked its way into pretty much every crack and crevice of the food industry," Paul Jenkins, a chemist and nutritionist, told Healthline.

"Although it is typically associated with Chinese cuisine, this is no longer the case. MSG can be found in many different foods and is especially prevalent in canned and processed foods," Jenkins said.

Natural Alternatives Are Available

Basil Yu, chef owner of ramen popup restaurant Yagi Noodles in Newport, Rhode Island, told Healthline that he avoids using MSG because of the stigma associated with the ingredient.

"I honestly have no issues with it and find it's an amazing ingredient, but I know that some people may have adverse reactions," he said. "I use natural products like kelp and shiitake mushrooms for my umami and find that the flavors are more complex and nuanced."

Yu said that he's seen MSG used less frequently by chefs despite its umami-enhancing properties.

"I have never seen it in the professional kitchens I have worked in and my family's Chinese restaurants pride themselves on not using MSG," he said. "I think the public has a sense that MSG usage is related to lesser-quality food, even though that may not be true."

That said, "Even though it's not used much in commercial kitchens, I see it more and more everywhere in processed foods," added Yu.

He predicted that chefs will continue to seek whole-food sources of umami flavor rather than turning to MSG.

Jenkins said there are pros and cons of MSG consumption and that consumers should be informed whenever the flavor enhancer is added.

"If MSG is added to a food, this should be glaringly obvious to the consumer, enabling them to make an informed decision of whether or not they wish to buy that food," he said.

Reposted with permission from Healthline. For detailed source information, please view the original article on Healthline.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Pexels

By Charli Shield

At unsettling times like the coronavirus outbreak, it might feel like things are very much out of your control. Most routines have been thrown into disarray and the future, as far as the experts tell us, is far from certain.

Read More Show Less
Pie Ranch in San Mateo, California, is a highly diverse farm that has both organic and food justice certification. Katie Greaney

By Elizabeth Henderson

Farmworkers, farmers and their organizations around the country have been singing the same tune for years on the urgent need for immigration reform. That harmony turns to discord as soon as you get down to details on how to get it done, what to include and what compromises you are willing to make. Case in point: the Farm Workforce Modernization Act (H.R. 5038), which passed in the House of Representatives on Dec. 11, 2019, by a vote of 260-165. The Senate received the bill the next day and referred it to the Committee on the Judiciary, where it remains. Two hundred and fifty agriculture and labor groups signed on to the United Farm Workers' (UFW) call for support for H.R. 5038. UFW President Arturo Rodriguez rejoiced:

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
A woman walks to her train in Grand Central Terminal as New York City attempts to slow down the spread of coronavirus through social distancing on March 27. John Lamparski / Getty Images

By Julia Conley

A council representing more than 800,000 doctors across the U.S. signed a letter Friday imploring President Donald Trump to reverse his call for businesses to reopen by April 12, warning that the president's flouting of the guidance of public health experts could jeopardize the health of millions of Americans and throw hospitals into even more chaos as they fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Read More Show Less
polaristest / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner

Over six gallons of water are required to produce one gallon of wine. "Irrigation, sprays, and frost protection all [used in winemaking] require a lot of water," explained winemaker and sommelier Keith Wallace, who's also a professor and the founder of the Wine School of Philadelphia, the largest independent wine school in the U.S. And water waste is just the start of the climate-ruining inefficiencies commonplace in the wine industry. Sustainably speaking, climate change could be problematic for your favorite glass of wine.

Read More Show Less
Pixabay

By Rachael Link, MS, RD

Spinach is a true nutritional powerhouse, as it's rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Read More Show Less