1.5 Million Tons of Umami

This is a question I have asked myself many times over the years spent here in Japan:
If MSG is so bad for you, why doesn’t everyone in Asia have a headache?

Hell, I just had a discussion about it a few weeks ago when T asked why westerners treat MSG (found in salt shakers that adorn the tabletops of many Asian countries, right next to the soy sauce, chili paste, etc.) with such… suspicion. I told him how it’s just accepted that it’s bad stuff, but realized I didn’t know why, and decided to look into it. It’s pure coincidence that I stumbled upon this article today, and it was a revelation of sorts.
The thing is, I didn’t even know that Ajinomoto was pure MSG until I came here, because I’d never even seen it in the states – I was born in 1974, and I remember hearing about the evils of it when I was around 7 or 8. One of my aunts said that she could tell when there was MSG in Chinese food because it made her neck tingle, the conversation turned into a discussion of the dangers of artificial food additives. Impressionable young mind that I had, I just accepted it as fact, and I’m pretty sure that almost everyone in my fresh, organic, free-range, sun-dried, gourmet, blessed-by-Tibetan-monks, zero-calorie, low-carb, pre-chewed-by-endangered-squirrels, natural, fibrous, pesticide-free, and overall, just nutritionally superior home state of California did, too.
Now that I’ve read that article and checked some other sites, it kind of pisses me off to think that the virtual ban on monosodium glutamate in the US was based on such weak evidence. It’s not especially surprising, since in the context of the 70’s, for a Chinese-sounding doctor to criticize the preparation of cheap takeout fare from the Lucky Dragon/Golden Palace/Wing Chun’s must have seemed like he really knew what the fuck he was talking about. It is, however, disappointing.
Sure, the potential for it being harmful is there. I just wish it could be scientifically proven one way or the other before being scared into the public.

6 Replies to “1.5 Million Tons of Umami”

  1. Surrounded by Poison

    I will be blunt: Most of the food you eat is probably poisonous.
    Now, I am not talking about The Princess Bride iocaine powder poisonous, but something more insidious, longer term, and more sanctioned by the U.S. Government. I am talking about a sin…

  2. Hey, no probs with your idealistic wishes and I don’t apologize for raising you on good earth stewardship, bio-dynamic organic farming principles, a yummy gourmet home-made meal every day with fresh veggies and delectable fruits from the garden and orchards, or for trying my best to keep your precocious brain from getting overly-stimulated. I do apologize for the tofu-pumpkin pie and substituting carob for chocolate (what was I thinking??), but the MSG effects I saw on certain chemically-sensitive people (who got tingley first, and then fainted!) was kind of scary…and only happened with food from chinese restaurants or overly-Ajinomotoed foods.

  3. I worked at a Chinese restaurant in the early nineties and I could eat MSG with a spoon. Yeah health nuts are a problem, but I think (in general) pro chefs view MSG as a tool for losers who are too lazy to ‘properly’ flavor their food and would be all to happy to see the stuff disappear.

  4. In a bookstore, I picked up this booklet describing all kinds of spices, also with a page on MSG. Curious as to what’s so bad about it, I read it all, but as the Evil Sandmich suggested, there was only a remark like “Only people who can’t cook use it”. There seemed to be nothing wrong with it except a bad effect on people who are low on protein. (Notice how the Observer article doesn’t mention anything like this.) “Low on protein” means me, being a vegan and all. Reading this, I came to remember how I had suddenly felt weak while eating at a Vietnamese takeaway. The food was basically mushrooms in starchy MSG sauce. Delicious stuff, but made me feel a bit like I was going to pass out.
    Well, I’m glad to learn I just imagined that.

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