Many of us grew up hearing that MSG can cause headaches and nausea. To avoid it, consumers have sought out the label “No MSG” on packaged foods or restaurant menus. In 2015 the “No MSG” label was found on over $9.2 billion worth of foods sold, according to Euromonitor. U.S. based company McCormick led the charge, generating over $1 billion in sales in 2015 with the claim. Yet in the 1990s the F.D.A. ruled that MSG is safe for human consumption. In other words, there is no scientific correlation to be found between these symptoms and the consumption of MSG.
A new collaboration between Pepper Teigen (yes, Chrissy’s mom) and Asian meal starter company Omsom are calling attention to a campaign called “Know MSG.”
According to Teigen, “For years there has been a really negative stigma around MSG. People think it’s bad for you, but research shows it’s truly safe. I’ve always used MSG in my cooking and when I travel with my family, I even bring MSG with me because it makes everything taste better!”
MSG is an amino acid and provides umami, or flavor, while cooking. This naturally occurring element is also found in foods like tomatoes, fish, and cheese. When the plant-derived amino acid that forms the basis for MSG is fermented and combined with salt, it becomes shelf stable. For over 100 years MSG been commonly used in Asian and Latin cuisines.
In order to break the stigma and celebrate the ingredient, Teigen and Omsom co-founders Vanessa and Kim Pham have launched a meal starter that prominently features MSG. Teigen shares, “I wanted to work with Omsom to help bring MSG into people’s homes across the country in a way that’s easy to use and understand. I hope that this helps people realize that MSG is safe, delicious, and should be an ingredient they feel comfortable using in their homes and eating at restaurants across the country.”
The duo collaborated on a Thai street food dish called Krapow. For Kim Pham, the dish has a deep meaning. “For so long, MSG has been demonized in American society as a result of both bad science and anti-Asian sentiment. We’ve long been passionate about the reclamation and celebration of Asian flavors and stories – and MSG’s place in the American fabric is absolutely a part of that,” she explains.
There is a darker side to the MSG story. The Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary had a listing called ‘Chinese Restaurant Syndrome,’ which, according to the BBC, read as, “A group of symptoms (such as numbness of the neck, arms, and back with headache, dizziness, and palpitations) that is held to affect susceptible persons eating food and especially Chinese food heavily seasoned with monosodium glutamate [MSG].” The listing was updated as ‘dated’ and ‘offensive’ in 2020.
The film director and restauranteur Eddie Huang, whose memoir was adopted for the TV Series “Fresh Off The Boat,” pointed out that MSG is used in popular processed foods like Doritos and ranch dressing. It is not listed as an additional ingredient per FDA regulations: ‘MSG occurs naturally in ingredients such as hydrolyzed vegetable protein, autolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed yeast, yeast extract, soy extracts, and protein isolate, as well as in tomatoes and cheeses. While FDA requires that these products be listed on the ingredient panel, the agency does not require the label to also specify that they naturally contain MSG.’
To this end, Teigen and Pham are on a mission to end the misconception. Pham says, “We’re here to debunk the xenophobic and Anti-Asian sentiment around MSG and celebrate an ingredient that has long been a staple for many chefs and home cooks across the world for centuries.”