Monosodium glutamate. It’s in your Chinese take-out. It’s in your finger-licking delicious Nacho Cheese Doritos. And it’s definitely in your late-night bowl of Ramen noodles. Used for decades as a food additive and flavor-enhancer, monosodium glutamate (MSG) has been called many things, from a merely unhealthy additive to an addictive neurotoxin. But is the hype really to be believed?
According to the Food and Drug Administration, the World Health Organization, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, MSG is a safe food ingredient. The controversy about MSG, however, arises from a number of anecdotal complaints since the 1960s about adverse reactions when consuming foods with MSG. The “MSG Symptom Complex” or the “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” includes symptoms such as headaches, flushing, sweating, numbness, chest pain, nausea, heart palpitations, and weakness. Still, researchers have not found any conclusive evidence that links MSG to any of these symptoms, though it is acknowledged that a small minority of people may have mild, short-term reactions to MSG. In addition, scientists cannot explain why natural glutamate, which is present in cheeses and hams, has not been associated with any symptoms, when the natural compound shares the same chemical properties as MSG. Although the stigma of this additive may still persist, the use of MSG and other related glutamates are generally perceived by the scientific community to be harmless.