MSG = Monosodium, Good Mate!

I was at a pizza & wine cookoff recently — me with a few bottles of my family wine versus my pal Craig, with his family wines, making pizzas in the wood-burning oven of my friend and Craig’s brother-in-law, Chris. Basically, dads showing off for their and their friends’ wives.

Somehow we got on the subject of foods-that-used-to-be-taboo-that-have-been-redeemed — perhaps we were talking about eggs from each of our backyard chickens. Maybe it was butter, I can’t remember. I said aloud, “They’ve even determined that MSG is harmless.” Chris looked surprised. “Really??” However, his mother-in-law — his wife Mary’s mom — who had also joined us, looked aghast.

“Oh no!” she said, “MSG is terrible. It gives me headaches and irregular heartbeat and flushed skin!!”

I didn’t follow up.

A few weeks ago, I was cooking a test dinner of a sample menu for a briefly-mentioned-in-my-last-post-restaurant-possibility with some shall-not-yet-be-mentioned celebrity dinner guests who would be involved. My potential-restaurant-partner quizzed the guests about what their favorite kind of chicken was, and one of them replied, “KFC.”

Now I will pause here briefly to say that anyone who has ever told you they don’t like KFC is lying to you. It is @#$%ING delicious. Why? Well, there are those 11 secret herbs and spices. There is also the pressure frying which keeps the meat tender and thoroughly cooked without overcooking the crust. But there is also a fair helping of MSG.


The bad rap MSG got from the beginning was largely bogus. It’s simply a protein isolate attached to a sodium molecule. The bad rap also dates to the 1960s, when people reported experiencing strange symptoms after eating Chinese American food. In a famous article exploring “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome,” the author proposed a number of possible suspects — huge quantities of sodium, equally heroic amounts of oil… or, a heretofore unknown substance called monosodium glutamate. It was the latter that captured the public imagination — especially after some well-meaning scientists injected pregnant mice with 30,000x the amount of MSG any human could possibly consume and discovered problems in the resulting offspring.

If you are afraid of MSG, consider that you likely consume half a gram of the stuff daily in the foods you eat. That’s not counting naturally occurring MSG, which is chemically the same as the additive, and found in foods from mushrooms to cheese to fish.

I wanted my guests to really like the chicken. So I purchased a bag of MSG.

I was a little ashamed as I brought my contraband to the check-out line. But then I remembered I was at the Japanese market, and the Japanese still dig MSG. They were the ones who brought it to the world! Anyway, in terms of my meal, it would not be the main component of the dishes I was making; rather, it would merely enhance the flavors of garlic, salt, sugar, pepper, spices and so forth. I used a very small pinch in my spice mixture, a bit in my brines, etc. How was it? Delicious — and a bit better than it would’ve been without. My celebrity guests were on board 100%.

And I am now onboard too. With MSG.

Don’t shame me, well-intentioned food extremist. I realize yours is a small, flavorless world in which your self-righteous indignity to my defense of the world’s most hated food additive will provide you a temporary sense of purpose. I give you that. With a side of kale.

Just give me a KFC thigh and wing, please. And some kung pao chicken on the side.

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tim Irish
    Apr 17, 2019 @ 03:05:19

    I used to eat KFC about once a year just to remind me of the taste–not at all bad. For me, the downside of the product was I felt in need of a hot shower within minutes of chicken ingestion. It was as though my entire body had been airbrushed with PAM. Perhaps it’s just me.

    I love MSG–I really do. I am always a little tickled by intelligent adults who go a bit mad over its possible presence in food. OMG–why do you think a steak tastes so much better with mushrooms? Why does just about anything taste better with mushrooms? Why do mushrooms taste better with more mushrooms?

    My real additive fear (perhaps the only food skittishness I’ll own up to) are sulfides. You know–that stuff with which they hose down the salad bar in so-called “family” restaurants. And, just ’cause life’s out to get me, it’s added to nearly every bottle of
    California wine retailed in a grocery store or wine and spirits shop. Sulfides have ruined my evening on a few occasions. I’ll tough my way through it and drink up.


    • scolgin
      Apr 22, 2019 @ 00:54:27

      You’re right Tim, sulfides are evil. As are nitrites. I just make myself a big organic veggie/fruit/powerfood shake in the morning, try to eat healthy most of the time. And then throw caution to the wind with everything else. Hey, my dad lived to nearly 90 on mostly ice cream.


      • Tim Irish
        Apr 22, 2019 @ 21:24:05

        Sulfides (and nitrites) can provoke a truly ill reaction in me.

        Yes–as I recall your Dad also liked Mexican cuisine of any sort and quantity. It was a lifelong novelty and love for a boy raised in Ontonagon, where I believe they ate only salt cod and snow for six months a year. He was also partial to the better sort of italian cooking and to great soups–as served in that (3 Star?) French restaurant in Sherman Oaks. I forget the name.

      • scolgin
        May 06, 2019 @ 16:13:50

        Right! Was just trying to recall the name of the Mexican restaurant in Canoga Park he would take me to after tricking me into running crappy errands with him. I can only imagine the revelation of coming to Los Angeles from the UP — in the days before the ubiquity of availability of global cuisine in America — and discovering Mexican, French, Japanese… French in Sherman Oaks, let me see… There was the Le Petit, and Rive Gauche… And then one of the “shell” restaurants, of which there were three… Egg Shell? Sea Shell? can’t recall the third? (What other kinds of shells are there??? It wasn’t “peanut”…)

      • Tim Irish
        May 05, 2019 @ 04:58:57

        Nitrites Sean–absolutely proven to cause cancer and present in most “smoked” meats… I really like bacon now and then, but the nitrites put me off. It takes some looking for, but uncured bacon is usually nitrite-free–and more stores are stocking it. And–it does not curl up when cooked!

  2. Michelle
    Apr 20, 2019 @ 01:44:42

    Ah, MSG … the gluten of bygone days. Good for you! But what you really want it the keel at KFC. Or so Steve (who did KFC marketing in an earlier life) would say.


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