No, this piece does not refer to the famed Madison Square Garden in New York City, but rather that food additive known as Mono Sodium Glutamate, more commonly abbreviated as MSG. This addictive flavor enhancer goes by several names: MSG, Ajinomoto, Vetsin, The Essence of Taste & Mega Salty Goodness. Okay, the last one was totally made up; however I have half a mind to trademark it, because that essentially describes the product perfectly. MSG = Mega Salty Goodness™!!!
MSG is a sodium salt which contains amino & glutamic acids, and is usually marketed as a flavor enhancer. As such, the use of MSG as a flavor enhancer has inextricably been linked to Asian cuisine. The chemical compound for MSG was extracted 1907 and patented by the Ajinomoto Corporation in 1909. The product is so associated with Ajinomoto that the company’s name has also become a namesake for the MSG product itself – unsurprising as Ajinomoto produces one-third of the world’s MSG.
But why is MSG so appealing to Asians? What is it about MSG that makes us lick our lips in delight and compels us to add the ingredient to every dish we create? Quite simply, the taste of MSG is something of pure bliss and is something quite incomparable. Who needs regular herbs and spices, salt or pepper, when you have this artificial enhancer that tastes like party in your mouth! However, the tendency to add MSG is Asian cuisine is something akin to an alcoholic adding vodka to each and every drink. It is now a widespread routine for Asian chefs to use MSG flavor enhancement in lieu of actual culinary prowess, which is something that has wreaked havoc on our concepts of “good health”.
But then again, is that momentary burst of taste provided by MSG totally worth it? To invite the comparison with booze yet again, the feeling one gets after consumption is similar to what some would like to label the “MSG hangover”. Okay, so it’s not as bad as a regular hangover, but after consuming excessive MSG, one feels immediate dryness of the throat, the need for water and the inner guilt that you are ruining your own body’s metabolic system. MSG addicts become totally addicted to the stuff, and have irresistible cravings for MSG… similar to how Sylar on Heroes has the uncontrollable urge to cut open people’s heads – yep, it gets that bad! After consuming MSG-laden products, you may also experience light-headedness, drowsiness and momentarily forget how to drive. (Oh wait, that is alcohol… my bad!)
Stopping short of creating an MSG Anonymous (MSGA) group, one must realize why MSG has become so prominent in not only Asian, but global cuisine. Efficiency is a trait valued by the Asian people, however as such; it is difficult for Asian chefs to be simultaneously efficient and effective. Food preparation often proves to be a challenging service, and often the “efficiency” aspect of cooking is valued above all else. After all, MSG is a most certainly an efficient way in which to instill flavor to cuisine without breaking a sweat. Heck, some people cannot even identify the MSG product or distinguish it from regular seasoning, hence where the “effectiveness” element comes into play.
Western cuisine has been so often been plagued with criticism, usually in relation to the food’s high fat and sugar content. After all, it is common knowledge that the rest of the world looks towards Americans as having a severe obesity crisis. Maybe it is because of their rapid consumption of McDonald’s burgers everyday – overflowing with fatty goodness! Okay, that’s an absolute generalization, and this writer apologizes profusely. However, the point is that Asian cuisine has always been looked at favorably, as the healthy yin to the Western junk food’s unhealthy yang.
After all, Japanese people have the highest average life expectancy of all nations in the world – which may have something to do with their healthy dietary intake for one. But where does MSG fit in all this? Before MSG became a mandatory ingredient in Asian cuisine, we would look towards the West for our fill of unhealthy junk food. Now, all Asians must do is add MSG to food and voila, you have Asian junk food – which is something to rival Western cuisine in terms of unhealthy eating.
In this final segment, I was going to list down all the examples of Asian cuisine that uses MSG in their creation… however after much thought; I figured that it would probably be easier to list down Asian dishes without any trace of MSG… Hmm, come to think of it, it’s not that easy. How about sushi? Mapo tofu? Plain steamed rice? Surely prawn crackers don’t have MSG! Even then, it is dubious as to whether chefs add a little MSG goodness while you’re not looking anyway. After all, it helps in the cooking process, is a quickfire method of seasoning food, and if you can get past the prospective headaches, nausea, stomach disorders, fatigue and depression that come with digesting excessive MSG, then what’s the problem – let’s continue consuming MSG to our hearts’ content!
Last 5 posts by Shaun
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