Is Your Takeout Safe To Eat?

There's plenty to worry about when it comes to what you eat, but I'm here to give you permission to indulge in something you may have been avoiding: MSG is safe to eat after all, so go ahead and get your Chinese food on. Though the deep-fried and salt-laden dishes might not work wonders for your health, delicious monosodium glutamate itself will leave you no worse for the wear.

People really love umami (that savory quality of food) as long as they think it's natural, of course. There's even a whole chain of well-loved burger restaurants named after this critical palate element. Shortly after MSG was discovered and then synthesized around 1907, it became hugely popular in packaged foods and with household chefs. But as detailed in a very interesting piece at FiveThirtyEight, MSG's early popularity was derailed by a non-evidence-based natural foods movement in the mid-20th century and poorly-conducted semi-scientific studies on its effects combined with some xenophobia regarding Asians.

In this way, MSG avoidance is sort of like high-fructose corn syrup avoidance. Though there's no real evidence that high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is inherently worse for you than real sugar, people tend to believe the former is worse than the latter — even when consumed in equal amounts. This allows food producers to make a pretty penny off the perceived difference ("real sugar" soda, anyone?) and, worse, invites a certain level of self-deception about how healthy your choices really are.

I, for one, am thrilled to see MSG's safety get new, wider, and deserved recognition. Having researched the food additive's safety myself years ago and come to the conclusion that it's basically as safe as the other flavorings we regularly eat, I can tell you that life is better when you aren't scouring the block or the Internet for "MSG free" promises, and then fretting over whether they were indeed true.

It's not just for restaurants taking shortcuts, either. About a year ago, I noticed some bottles of MSG in our local Asian market, and I took the plunge. As it turns out, MSG is the best $5 kitchen secret weapon you didn't know you needed. If your soup or chili lacks a certain "je ne sais quoi," a few sprinkles of these colorless, quick-dissolving granules will give it immediate depth. Since MSG is safe, you don't need to apologize to your guests either. They'll likely be glad you had such good sense.

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