Cancel culture has been around for a while—according to Twitter and Wikipedia, we’ve been publicly ostracizing things since 2014. However, I’d like to shed light on something that was cancelled long before that: Monosodium glutamate, more commonly known as MSG. MSG has been slandered since the late 1960s and, unlike most cancellations in our present day, its negative reputation has persisted for decades. So imagine my surprise and genuine delight to learn that there has been a coalition of tastemakers and influencers set out to absolve this culinary victim.
But First, a Brief History Lesson
Before MSG was invented, there were only four major flavor profiles: sweet, salty, bitter and sour. MSG, originally derived from seaweed, brought forth a fifth flavor that is now a forever buzzword in the culinary world: umami. Now made by fermenting ingredients like corn—how American!—MSG boosts savory foods like meat, fish and vegetables. Even though most people think of MSG as a seasoning resembling table salt, it’s important to note that monosodium glutamate is also found naturally in foods that we love like tomatoes, cheese and fish. It’s also found unnaturally in popular fast food choices, like your beloved chicken sandwich from Chick-fil-A and Popeye’s chicken tendies!
So what happened to this seemingly miraculous ingredient? Well, it was cancelled. Thought to be the source of a variety of ailments like headaches and indigestion, collectively referred to as “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” (WTF?), all it took was one letter in a medical journal for it all to start crumbling apart—and we’ve all seen this play out before.
However, this was a lot bigger than denouncing a single ingredient. It negatively impacted Chinese American restaurants across the nation and stoked the fires of xenophobia. Even though MSG has been FDA-approved since 1958 and those published claims were scientifically proven to be false, the witch hunt pursued and restaurant owners were forced to display “No MSG” signs in their windows if they wanted to stay in business.
How Brands are Changing the Game
Fast forward to 2020, food brands like Omsom and Fly By Jing have been loud and proud about debunking the rumors circulating around this mysterious ingredient, so much so that Whole 30 publicly added it to their list of acceptable foods—a very exclusive list, mind you! Even Chrissy Teigen’s own mother, Pepper, joined forces with Omsom to highlight a campaign called “Know MSG” and launch a new recipe starter, Thai Kaprow 🔥
Some of us at Superhuman have been following these female-led companies closely and have admired their bold and unapologetic brands, which have permeated through more than just their stunning packaging designs. As an Asian American and a proud daughter of refugees, it’s inspiring to see badass women not only grow a company—during a pandemic no less!—but also use their voices to celebrate our culture and tear down anti-Asian sentiments. Those are the people worth following and the brands worth buying.
As for MSG? It’s feeling more like a marathon than a sprint to set the record straight. “No MSG” labels are still heavily used on grocery store staples. However, it’s exciting to see shifts happening in hugely popular dietary lifestyles like Whole 30. I personally can’t wait for the day that MSG shakers are sitting shamelessly on dining tables and see some new stickers on my favorite restaurant windows. If you’re wanting to try it out for yourself you can easily find MSG at your local grocery store, marketed as Ac’cent. Buzzfeed has a list of suggestions on how to incorporate it into your favorite recipes, because of course they do!
Have a favorite recipe that uses MSG? Drop it in the comments, I’d love to try it myself!