Welcome to Kernel Knowledge, The blog that fuses pop culture and food, and serves you a plate of knowledge. I'm your host Chef Darren, today I would like to talk to you about the hidden dangers of MSG.
Growing up I ate a lot of American strip-mall Chinese food, I mean a ton. Every Friday night we would go to my Aunt's house and order take-out from her favorite place, and without fail she would end every order with No MSG. I never once gave it a thought, she told me she had a food allergy and it gave her a headache. The truth, however, is a lot more sinister, she was an unwitting pawn of racist propaganda. To understand how and why we must first understand the stigma of MSG. Monosodium glutamate (MSG), also known as sodium glutamate, is the salt of glutamic acid, one of the most abundant naturally occurring non-essential amino acids. Glutamic acid is found naturally in tomatoes, grapes, cheese, mushrooms, and other foods. It's one of the things that makes Umami foods so delicious but we can't put our finger on why. Glutamic acid was discovered in 1866 by German chemist Karl Heinrich Ritthausen and in 1908 Kikunae Ikeda of Tokyo Imperial University crystallized the acid through aqueous extraction and made MSG for the first time from seaweed. He also coined the term Umami
The product has been deemed safe for over 100 years till an American Dr. Robert Ho Man Kwok submitted a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine Coining the term “Chinese Restaurantuntil Syndrome” a severe headache that only comes from eating Chinese food and their mysterious spices. The seriousness of the letter is debated until today however, the damage it caused is still being felt today. The letter was picked up and spun by the news media and soon it became an outcry, don't eat Chinese food with the dreaded MSG! Despite it being in almost all the junk food people love...
The letter itself has been claimed to be a joke by Dr. Howard Steel of the National Biomedical Research Foundation in 2018, Both Dr. Steel and Kwok worked for the Foundation. In 2014 Dr. Kwok passed away, when reached for comment Dr. Steels Daughter said the letters were both a prank but did not elaborate. This exact scenario is playing out still to this day, in 2020 Goya has launched a campaign to rehabilitate MSG's image, but that isn't the only reason why I brought this up today.
We are in the midst of a global health panic and there is a ton of misinformation going around, and it is starting to hurt our brothers and sisters in the Asian Restaurant community. Just like in the days of Chinese Restaurant Syndrome, people are saying Don't go out to Chinese or Japanese places for fear of the Wuhan virus. Stating that all their food comes from overseas or they are more likely to be in contact with people who have had the virus. This is pure bunk. Please continue to support them now more than ever, the traditional lunar new year was very slow due to the outbreak and as you may or might know the Food industry is a very delicate balancing act.
Thank you for reading, I hope you'll come back for another helping of Kernel Knowledge.