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MSG: Chefs on why the controversial seasoning is making a comeback

MSG: a comeback for a controversial seasoning
Are health concerns and misinformation surrounding MSG based in science? 04:55

Many Americans grew up hearing it is unhealthy or even dangerous to consume monosodium glutamate — more popularly known as MSG. 

While it is associated with being found in Asian dishes, it is also a common ingredient in American foods. It also occurs naturally in foods such as tomatoes and cheese, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

The safety of MSG first came into question in 1968 when a doctor wrote a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine titled "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome," said chef and author J. Kenji López-Alt. The study was not based on science but on symptoms, Alt said, and soon started an MSG backlash.  

"Of course, the whole idea has sort of racist undertones because Chinese restaurants had a reputation for being sort of low-quality food or dirtier food, or any of these harmful things that people think," he said. 

Some people still claim to experience symptoms such as headaches or drowsiness after eating foods containing MSG but recent scientific research shows that, when consumed in moderation, MSG is harmless.

In culinary practice, MSG is a flavor booster included in dishes to add a sort of savoriness to a dish. 

Chef Tim Ma, founder and CEO of the American-Chinese restaurant Lucky Danger in Washington, D.C., makes a point to add MSG to all his meals on his menu. 

"Every dish has it in there, and we actually sit it here on the wok station because it's the last component of every dish that goes out," Ma said.  

Ma was born into a family of immigrants with a legacy of Chinese cuisine. His parents started the restaurant Bamboo Garden in Arkansas and his uncle's restaurant, Paul Ma's China Kitchen, was featured in a Smithsonian Exhibit on Chinese food in America. 

But Ma said his family never used MSG because of the negative stigma and anti-Asian sentiment that was attached to MSG. 

"No MSG was a badge of honor in a Chinese restaurant," he said. 

He's hoping to change that with his menu at Lucky Danger and bring a new outlook on MSG. 

"Some people might say it might just be easier for you to avoid the whole thing and not use MSG." "But then the food won't be as good, right?" he said.  

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