Thursday, March 3, 2011

The MSG Story

I was browsing Urbanspoon and I stumbled across this review that implied that the MSG in the restaurant's food gave him/her a headache. Well, that annoyed me. It made me realise that MSG was a result of racism and xenophobia.

You know, in Chinese and Thai cooking, MSG is simply called flavour. It's just some kind of powder that enhancers the flavour in your food. My mum sometimes uses it in her cooking, my partner's Thai brother in law does too. Everything you eat has MSG in it. Doritos? MSG-ed. Shapes? MSG-ed.

Here is my theory:

Years ago, when Asian migrants started to enter Western countries, and bringing their delicious cuisines with them, opening up their little take away shops and whatnot, the West freaked out.

"Oh, no!" they would moan. "These Asian folks make such good food, what if they steal our good old business? We must consult with the head of our state! Surely there is something they can do to save our businesses!"

So they would scramble to meet the Heads of State, begging them to do something about this crisis. "We can't lose our business to the foreign folk!" they cried.

The Heads of State listened, stroking their beards. They came up with a plan, but they needed their men to befriend these foreign folk, suss out their strategies, and report back to the Heads of State.

The business men agreed, so off they went, befriending these foreign restaurateurs. These foreign restaurateurs were more than happy to share their food with the Western folk. It felt like they were becoming part of the family, like the Western folk were welcoming them. They showed them their recipes, taught them their skills. Little did they know that the Western folk have been conversing with the Heads of State in secret.

"What is this powder they speak of?" asked the Heads of State.

"We don't know, sir. But it makes food taste bloody good!" piped the men.

"By golly, we can't have that! What if it's bad for you?" asked the Heads of State.

"That would be terrible! How do we stop our folk from eating this delicious but unknown flavour enhancer whilst saving our businesses?" asked the men.

The Heads of State stroked their beards some more, and held up their index finger.

"We propose that this substance be named MSG for Monosodium Glutamate," said the Heads of State.

"Oh, what a scary and scientific name! That must be terrible for us!" cried the men.

"Yes, and once word gets out about MSG, it will put folks off foreign food, and your business will increase two fold!" declared the Heads of State.

And word did get out about MSG. Decades later, TV Shows like A Current Affair and Today Tonight exposed how terrible MSG was, and how dangerous Asian cooking was because they used so much MSG.

The End.

OK, so that was a really terrible story and obviously not a historical account of MSG, even though it could be perfectly plausible. But do you see my point? My theory is that MSG was just another way the West bred xenophobia against the East. By calling flavour enhancers this terribly scary name, it's like someone put a litre of red food colouring into your soup.

I just want to say, yeah, MSG is bad for you if you eat too much of it; but it's no different to salt. Next time you freak out that there's MSG in Asian cooking, remember there's MSG in your potato chips and your cuppa soups and savoury biscuits and frozen goods.


  1. isn't MSG a preservative? When I worked at Tasty Express we used to put it on our meats.
    I reckon it's another one of those buzz words that people got scared of in the 90s, like cholesterol and that kind of thing. One of those things that you 'know' about so you can be extra health conscious. I bet you nobody kicks up a fuss about MSG in America. Interesting point about it being a racist/xenophobic claim, though. I would have to read the review you read to be sure, maybe their headache is a thing they get regularly. If, as you say, most Chinese food places are putting it in, I don't see why it wouldn't be a common food allergy. Also, weird, I just read a review of Lazzats:
    which has something about MSG giving a burning sensation?? Personally I have never noticed it as a standout flavour, like I said, thought it was just a preservative. Anyhoo, that review of Lazzats points out that their bain marie food is kinda sweet and if I think about it, I agree!

  2. Haha oh man I haven't been to lazzat's in ages! We should do that soon.

    I suppose it can be a preservative, just like salt. It was always used at home as a flavour thing. In Chinese, it literally translate as flavour powder or enhancer. I really wouldn't be surprised if MSG was set up to be this terrible thing due to some kind of racism/xenophobia. I mean, when you get food from supermarkets and they have MSG in it, it's just called flavour enhancer (621). By law, in australia and NZ, it should be classified as MSG or flavour enhancer (621). Why not just say it is msg? It tells people exactly what it is.

    I dunno. Maybe things just get lost in translation.

    I reckon it's all just a placebo effect. Plus, if you eat it in moderation, it should be fine. It's just like salt. It's a flavour enhancer.

    I mean, obviously, if you are actually allergic, to it then by all means people should know if their food contains it. Otherwise, I don't see how it should be any different to salt.

    And yeah, lazzat's food is sweet. Their butter chicken is sweeter and so is their delicious eggplant sambal :)

  3. MSG = Monosodium glutamate. As it implies, it is Salt + glutamate that exists in natural food like mushroom, cheese, milk and etc. Yeah what you said is right Shu, there is E621/msg in a lot of non-asian food we eat and I believe people who are 'fashionably' allergic to msg has a psychological allergy.