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McDonald's turns to MSG in bid to be player in chicken sandwiches

McDonald's is turning to an often-maligned ingredient in its years-long effort at creating a chicken sandwich capable of luring customers from Chick-fil-A and Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen.

McDonald's is now testing chicken sandwiches with monosodium glutamate, or MSG, at more than 230 of its restaurants in Texas and Tennessee. The fried chicken sandwich is topped with butter and dill pickles and comes on a "buttery" potato roll similar to the Popeyes sandwich. It's also served in a foil bag, which is how Chick-fil-A serves its fowl fare.

While some have argued that when it comes to chicken, the world's biggest restaurant chain should stick to nuggets, McDonald's franchise owners feel differently, and reportedly squawked about it last year. 

"A Chicken Sandwich at McDonald's should be our top priority," the National Owners Association board emailed fellow franchisees in July. "JFK called for a man on the moon, our call should be a category leading chicken sandwich."

A McDonald's spokesperson reports positive customer feedback after the addition of MSG in chicken sandwiches in Texas and Tennessee: "So far, our customers in Houston and Knoxville have had a positive response to the test of our Crispy Chicken Sandwich and Deluxe Crispy Chicken sandwich. Feedback and insights from the test will inform our decisions moving forward."

Chick-fil-A's classic chicken sandwich uses MSG, as does Popeyes, which introduced a sandwich last summer that sold out amid a social media frenzy and gave the brand "one of its best quarters in nearly two decades," according to its parent company, Restaurant Brands International.

Man fatally stabbed at Popeyes 00:20

MSG was once a popular additive that was spurned by consumers and axed by many food makers in the five decades since a now debunked account linking the ingredient and its use in Chinese restaurants to numbness, weakness or heart palpitations.

Adding MSG to foods is "generally recognized as safe," according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "Although many people identify themselves as sensitive to MSG, in studies with such individuals given MSG or a placebo, scientists have not been able to consistently trigger reactions," the agency added. 

Cindy Goody, McDonald's chief nutritionist, said in a statement the company is "committed to providing customers with easy access to ingredients and nutritional information to help them make informed food choices when they order from the McDonald's menu." 

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