Wednesday, March 5, 2008

MSG gets the Left Brain Treatment

In today's New York Times, a fine, common sense driven article on the origin, applications and controversy associated with the use and consumption of MSG (monosodium glutamate) . On this latter topic I became so sanguine so long ago that it's kind of hard to work myself up to write about. The stuff is useful for introducing "savor" into dishes that do not or cannot rely on high cost meat and cheese based ingredients to produce the same effect.

MSG is at least as safe as salt when used in responsible amounts.

Of course, there are always going to be people who are convinced that MSG is responsible for everything from autism to xenophobia. But as I also discovered a long time ago, it's a heck of a lot easier to blame an ingredient in your diet for your health problems, than it is to accept that you might be an irrational screwball who is either over-consuming the ingredient or imagining the symptoms.

Anyone remember the "white sugar" scare (which was preceded by the salt scare and the fat scare) when refined sugar was being blamed for hyperactivity in children, migraine headaches and the demise of reason? That was fun. It's not really over of course, I still meet plenty of people who think that sucrose is evil. But more often than not, if someone is going to be phobic about sugar these days they are going to blame corn-syrup for their obesity or obsessive compulsive behavior or whatever.

I suppose there is no way to avoid these periodic episodes of ingredient phobia. Americans have never been an overly reflective people, and when most folks get their science news from media that is by necessity sensationalist, all it takes is a few million or so credulous and frightened people to create another food bogeyman.

Yes, MSG, the Secret Behind the Savor - New York Times


Don Luis said...

Jeffrey Steingarten has a fine essay on MSG in his book It Must've Been Something I Ate.

Tags said...

He also wipes up the floor with white sugar phobics in "The Man Who Ate Everything" in an article called, "Murder, My Sweet."

Egaeus said...

I love the people who insist that they can't eat MSG and then add soy sauce to their food. That's like claiming not to eat salt while adding seawater.

Bob del Grosso said...

Yeah, especially since a lot of MSG is extracted from the dregs of soy sauce fermentation.

I think a lot of people think that anything with chemical name is manmade and therefore suspect.

Last week I met a guy who swore he could not eat sodium chloride but was fine with sea salt.