MSG Making Its Way There, Too
What do mustard, ketchup, salt, pepper, sugar, low-calorie sweeteners, hot sauce, MSG, soy sauce and vinegar all have in common? The easy answer: they are all condiments. Another answer: they are all items commonly found on tables in restaurants. You might doubt this second answer, but it is true and depends on the location and the type of restaurant you’re talking about!
According to an article in Condiments from Around the World (And Why They Matter), “Each country and often towns within them have their own ways of eating, adding extra bits of spice or sourness to an already completed dish. Whereas in North America, condiments are minimal – ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise or steak sauce are as far as most restaurants go – elsewhere they are plentiful, creative and integral to overall enjoyment of the meal.”
Some examples used by the author include Morocco, where you will find salt, pepper and cumin in shakers on restaurant tables. In Turkey, along with the more traditional salt and pepper, restaurants have tiny jars of chili powder on tables, and, inevitably, “something pickled” says the author of this article. And the list goes on.
Having traveled extensively myself throughout the US, I’ve observed some unique condiments that inevitably vary depending on a restaurant’s cuisine. Fried seafood: malt vinegar. Pancakes: maple syrup. Chicken wings: hot sauce. Mexican food: salsa. Asian cuisine: soy sauce and monosodium glutamate (MSG) in shakers.
What? MSG in shakers? Yes, and it’s likely we might start seeing more of this as more consumers learn that MSG is a fantastic flavor enhancer that is indeed safe to use. In fact, world renowned chef David Chang is also famous for his widely-viewed MAD Symposium talk in which he discusses the much-maligned stigma surrounding MSG as well as the benefits of its use. And earlier this month, Mission Chinese Food’s San Francisco location confidently announced that the restaurant now offers tabletop shakers of MSG.
In keeping with the recent umami craze that reignited interest surrounding the science and safety of monosodium glutamate (which notoriously enhances the umami flavor) , more and more people are finally learning the facts about MSG, and are increasingly realizing what they’ve been missing out on due to a long-standing myth.
An excellent article published by Science Friday sums up what consumers should know (Science Friday is part of Public Radio International and is produced by the Science Friday Initiative, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization).
Here are a couple excerpts from the Science Friday article, “Is MSG Bad for Your Health?:
“Indeed, most scientists today agree that the notion that MSG causes sickness in humans is unfounded.” “It’s ridiculous,” says Ken Lee, a professor and the director of food innovation at The Ohio State University. “It’s wacko, it’s weird; it’s not true that MSG has any kind of toxic or causative role in food allergies.”
“Most living things on earth contain glutamate, says Dr. Lee, and it’s also in many foods, including tomatoes, walnuts, pecans, Parmesan cheese, peas, mushrooms, and soy sauce. An average adult consumes about 13 grams of glutamate each day from the protein in food, according to the FDA; added MSG contributes another 0.55 grams.”
Another researcher quoted in the article, Dr. Katherine Woessner, concludes, “As humans, we like to have an explanation for things, and we have to eat every day, so if you aren’t feeling well, it’s normal to trace your steps back to the last meal you ate. But what’s important to keep in mind is, yes, you had that meal, yes you had those symptoms—but they’re not necessarily cause and effect.”
So, what about Chinese food? “If you think you get a reaction to Chinese food, maybe you do—it’s just not the MSG,” explains Dr. John Fernstrom a professor of psychiatry, pharmacology, and chemical biology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine (as quoted in the Science Friday article).
If you’re now thinking about including an MSG shaker among the array of condiments sitting on your dining table, be sure to read my blog about “8 Tips for Using MSG in Cooking and in Recipes.” And please add a Comment to this blog if you’d like to share a favorite recipe where MSG works well to add that special savory taste!