How MSG Got a Bad Rap: Flawed Science and Xenophobia

  • 2016-01-20
  • Five Thirty Eight

As a college student in New York City, I marveled that the city let me eat poached eggs with halloumi cheese and Moroccan spiced pita for breakfast, a spicy-sweet minced meat salad from northern Thailand for lunch, and Singaporean nasi lemak for dinner. My requisites were pretty straightforward: delicious, cheap and served in bulk. But if I was eating Chinese, I added one more: no MSG.

Like many people, I thought MSG — monosodium glutamate, a chemical compound used to enhance the flavor of food — was bad for me, and I was sure I felt terrible every time I ate it. After all, I was sluggish and had headaches and achy limbs whenever I ate a big meal in Chinatown. Now I know that the recurring headaches that plague me have little to do with what I eat. But at the time, avoiding those three letters brought me comfort and let me think I’d be eating some sort of sacredly pure meal made with food, not chemicals. Oh, how young and foolish I was.