Monosodium glutamate (or MSG) has been undergoing a notable shift within the food landscape over the past few years, and it’s about damn time. You have no doubt heard the harmful gossip that has swirled around this controversial ingredient for most of the past century; maybe you’ve even been told to outright avoid consuming it. Because decades of misinformation have left the public wondering whether MSG is safe to eat, fans of the ingredient have had their work cut out for them, assuring everyone that MSG is perfectly safe and delicious (and it is!). Thanks to those efforts, MSG’s public image has finally started to shift.
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According to a report from market research firm Mintel, the social media conversation around MSG has recently become more positive: Between 2018 and 2023, 75% of social media posts that were reviewed contained positive sentiment toward MSG. The report also suggests that brands that actively work to destigmatize the ingredient while advocating against racial stereotypes are likely to be viewed favorably by consumers.
The report highlights brands such as Omsom, a company that sells flavor kits for cooking Asian dishes at home. Omsom’s product is just one example of how businesses can help reshape the story of MSG and aid the public’s understanding of all it can do. Chefs, too, are openly embracing the ingredient as a flavor enhancer in their kitchens (as highlighted in this CBS segment) after years of avoiding MSG discourse for fear of losing customers.
MSG’s bad reputation is even being dismantled in arenas such as the dictionary itself. In 2020, Merriam-Webster revised the label on its entry for the term “Chinese restaurant syndrome,” noting that the phrase is “dated” and “sometimes offensive.” The definition is now also linked to another term, “MSG symptom complex,” which describes the symptoms some people experience after consuming MSG and attribute to the presence of the ingredient.
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“While there are numerous anecdotal reports of MSG symptom complex, research has failed to establish a clear, definitive link between the consumption of MSG and adverse reactions,” Merriam-Webster notes in the entry.
I always keep a few shakers of MSG on hand, and if you’re interested in trying it out, it’s almost certainly available at your local grocery store. (I use Ajinomoto or Ac’cent.) It’s something I use to bolster savoriness in dips, sauces, and soups, and once you get familiar with its uses, it’s a tool you’ll find yourself reaching for on a regular basis. In conjunction with salt, MSG will coax some great additional flavor from whatever you’re making, and a little goes a long way.
If despite all these reassurances the idea of MSG still worries you, think about what you already eat on a regular basis, especially when it comes to snacks. If you’re a fan of Doritos, Cheetos, Pringles, or pretty much any fast food, congratulations, you’re in the habit of consuming small amounts of MSG. Look at the ingredient list for mass-produced salty packaged foods and you’ll probably see MSG pop up more often than you’d expect.
We can only hope that in the coming years the discourse around MSG relaxes even further. While many American consumers have finally started to come around to the fact that it’s just one more useful ingredient to keep in the pantry—one that tastes really good—there are millions of people left to enlighten. They’re just catching up, that’s all.