Fourth episode and still counting…
The Lazy Susan Show
Our very own fortnightly radio show where we will talk about stories around food, culture, and communities throughout Indonesia.
This time, we decided to debunk people’s love and hate relationship with MSG or monosodium glutamate.
The Chinese Restaurant Syndrome
As defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it is “a group of symptoms (such as numbness of the neck, arms, and back with headache, dizziness, and palpitations) that is held to affect susceptible persons eating food and especially Chinese food heavily seasoned with monosodium glutamate.”
After a letter appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1968, MSG got a bad reputation, and was even removed from a lot of food products including baby food. Interestingly, a research stated that breast milk is actually rich in glutamate, the amino acid in MSG.
Sodium is one of two ions that make up table salt, while glutamate is an amino acid that gets put to work in all kinds of physical systems. In the nervous system, it helps deliver messages and functions as one of the many building blocks we rely on to create proteins, plus it also interacts with taste receptors in our mouths.
In 1908, a Japanese chemist, Kikunae Ikeda, first coined the word umami. Umai (うまい) is “delicious”, and mi (味) is “taste”. MSG is used to enhance the umami flavour in our food, if you try MSG by itself, I can assure you that it will taste horrible, but once combined with food, it will give you that umami flavour you were missing. Without even realising it, the everyday food we consume, naturally has MSG in them.
We asked #FriendsOfSuzy what food are considered as ‘natural MSG’ and the answers were tomato, ebi/shrimp, fish sauce, kombu, soy sauce, dried shiitake, cheese, marmite, dried fish, bacon, fermented shrimp paste. As you can see, there are a lot! One person even answered “as umami as people think”. And you can also enhance the natural MSG by the cooking process: fermentation, longer cooking time, curing, etc. It is impossible to avoid MSG altogether, since we live side by side with it.
The bad reputation of MSG is lacking evidence too! There are studies that shows people feel tightness or numbness, the same symptoms that we supposedly should feel after ingesting MSG, from consuming coffee and spiced tomato juice which do not contain MSG.
One might think it’s the salt that’s causing those symptoms, or it is even a symptoms of cholesterol. Honestly, if we eat too much of anything we will feel ill, so whether it’s MSG or salt or sugar or literally anything, always consume in moderation.
Do you have any fun stories around MSG?
Here’s this episode’s playlist for you guys to enjoy!