What Is MSG?

Ray Hawk

MSG, an abbreviation for monosodium glutamate, is a flavor enhancer first introduced into the diet of Asian cuisine from seaweed extract, and later refined as a food additive by Kikunae Ikeda in Japan in 1907. Japanese soldiers had MSG included in their rations during World War II, and this was eventually noticed by American military forces, who brought it to the US in the late 1940s, where it became a household word by the 1960s. Monosodium glutamate is a naturally occurring amino acid that is not required by the human body for health, but glutamic acid from which it is derived is a common salt found in a wide variety of foods, and is often accounted for on labels as hydrolyzed protein, yeast, or soy extract.

Toxicology research that MSG is harmless, even in large amounts.
Toxicology research that MSG is harmless, even in large amounts.

Since MSG is so pervasive in the diet both in refined and natural forms, health concerns about its effects have been difficult to quantify. Every form of hydrolyzed protein, from sodium caseinate to autolyzed yeast, contains some form of glutamic acid from which MSG is derived. Large scale production of sodium salts began in 1956 when the Japanese perfected a method of fermentation at the Ajinmoto Company, which holds a patent on MSG. With increased distribution of the product to thousands of different food product lines, some health side effects began to be attributed to it.

Research in the late 1960s and early 1970s suggested potential toxicity issues for MSG, especially where it was being incorporated into baby food at the time. Food regulations in many countries from the US to Australia and New Zealand now require that all MSG be labeled as a food additive where it is used. Toxicology research as of 2004 has found that, even in large amounts, monosodium glutamate should be considered harmless.

Some difference of opinion exists on the effects of the refined form of MSG versus its natural sodium salt counterparts. By perfecting the manufacturing process, Ajinomoto Company has been able to produce MSG where 99.6% of the volume is made up of the L-glutamate flavor enhancing compound. Other unrefined forms of glutamic acids, however, typically have 95% or less of the L-glutamate chemical, so the differences are not too great. Whether MSG has long-term detrimental health effects or not, use continues to grow, with over 1.5 million metric tons of MSG consumed every year.

Aside from being used as a food additive, monosodium glutamate was discovered to be a useful component of plant growth. Glutamic acid derivatives are now incorporated into fertilizers and fungicides sprayed on everything from wine grapes to fruits, nuts, grain crops, and vegetables. In the US by the year 2009, the use of MSG had been approved for spraying on all agricultural products.

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Discussion Comments


MSG may in fact be detrimental to human health but its very difficult to quantify this as it is widespread in the food supply, and it is virtually identical to natural forms of glutamic acid in the food supply which are even more widespread.

The situation is somewhat akin to something like wheat in the food supply. Cases of celiac disease or gluten intolerance eventually arise in small segments of the population, but testing for this before hand is very difficult because there are no "control" groups of people to use as a comparison.

Also, there is very little economic motivation to test for MSG intolerance, as there might be for something like cancer or AIDs, so determining if its bad will be a long slow process that may never reach a definitive answer.

Cases of people who have shown a intolerance to MSG do exist, but they are not scientifically validated at this point. However, that's why its required in labeling laws. Its the best the government can do at this point to offer people protection, by giving them a choice to avoid it.


MSG is BAD, period! If someone wants to preserve food, use something natural like vitamin E. Nothing artificial could possibly be good for you. Better safe than sorry. If there is any hesitation at all on whether it is bad or not, don't put it in to begin with.

Big companies don't give a crap about the consumer, only about profits. They need to get a serious and embracing reality check and get a clue that if there are no more consumers from what they have done then there is no more profit! Idiots!

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