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Makes Stuff Good (MSG)?

Sure, we all want to eat well; we want our food free of artificial ingredients. At the same time, we want things tasty, so we cheat a bit. Nothing wrong with that, everyone does. Yet sometimes we’re not sure what we’re doing when it comes to the inclusion or exclusion of food additives―we mean well, but sometimes things don’t work out as planned. 

A case in point is the realm on monosodium glutamate, more commonly known as “MSG.” Less commonly known outside the food industry, MSG stands for “makes stuff good,” an easy way to amp taste.

Founded over a century ago by the Ajinomoto Company of Tokyo, “Ajinomoto” in Japanese translates to “the origin of flavor.” Also founded around the same time in Japan, the term “umami” was coined to represent the sensation of ‘savory’ taste when a Japanese chemist sought to isolate and duplicate the taste of an edible seaweed. Up until then, tastes were categorized as ‘sweet,’ ‘sour,’ ‘bitter,’ or ‘salty’―umami added a fifth unique dimension to our taste palate. Safe to say, umami added a more complex dimension, as ‘savory’ is not that easy to describe, coming off as more a ‘blended,’ or layered, taste sensation.

Such is the claim of Ajinomoto, who states that nowadays MSG is found in everyday foods such as potato chips, ranch dressing, and chicken noodle soup, as well as naturally in foods such as tomatoes, mushrooms, and cheese―delivering a textured taste for today’s discriminating palates. Personally, I find it interesting that what initially appeared to be an unrelated set of foods actually do share a similar umami taste profile! I understand what Ajinomoto is getting at when they argue that MSG serves to bring a umami taste profile forward, thereby lending a unifying foundation to a complex taste sensation.

People are often up in arms about MSG, yet unbeknownst to them it’s been there all along. For as long as I can remember, there’s been this cultural myth surrounding the nature of MSG, i.e., headaches, joint pain, sweating, to name a few of the more common complaints. According to a recent poll, four in 10 Americans say they actively avoid MSG. At the same time, the FDA states the average American consumes about half a gram of MSG daily, whether they realize it, or not.

Another case in point of the complexities of pre-existing attitudes and subsequent consumer behavior―for regardless how people think, or think they think, it’s how they behave that’s proof in the pudding. Eat up!

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