If you’re still afraid of the seasoning MSG giving you headaches, you should know you’ve bought into a decades-old myth. Don’t despair! Now that you know the truth, you can go celebrate with a meal at your favourite MSG-using restaurant, or treat yourself to a cute panda-shaped bottle of the stuff.
The monosodium glutamate, or MSG, scare started with a 1968 letter to the New England Journal of Medicine, in which a Chinese researcher, living in the US, said that he felt a numbness in his neck and arms after eating at certain Chinese restaurants, but not after eating home-cooked meals.
Maybe it had something to do with cooking wine, he suggested, or more likely the large amounts of sodium in the combination of soy sauce and MSG. Shortly afterward, doctors and everyone else were talking about a “Chinese restaurant syndrome” and blaming it on MSG.
The only problem? The syndrome couldn’t be reproduced in the lab. Chemically, it never made sense: monosodium glutamate is just what it sounds like: sodium plus the amino acid glutamate. Both of those ingredients are present in plenty of foods, and not just in Chinese restaurants either. Soy sauce is rich in glutamate, and so are tomatoes and parmesan cheese.
That there was no “Italian restaurant syndrome” suggests that maybe people were eager to blame Asian restaurants long after the syndrome’s existence was disproved.
So if you feel weird after a big meal — Chinese or otherwise — you may be imagining the symptoms or you may be experiencing something totally unrelated to MSG. If that’s the case, consider seeing a doctor.