MSG: The devil in disguise or disguised as the devil?

Over the past 24 hours on my facebook feed, I have seen two posts on MSG, and so I figured this is as good a time as any to help debunk the myth of ‘evil MSG’. So… here is the suspect: Monosodium glutamate.

I’m not really that bad… or am I?

You may have heard that MSG is not good for you. You may also have heard that it is present in asian foods (I know that I have seen signs on a number of local take-away joints stating ‘We do not use MSG’). So, with a nice little abbreviation, or in its chemical name, it is easy to spread the word that it is an evil chemical which is bad for you. But, with a little extra chemistry knowledge, a look at the history of research into MSG, and the understanding that just because it has a chemical name doesn’t mean that it will kill you (see ‘sodium chloride’- AKA table salt), you can start to see that this ‘evil’ label is not deserved.

So, lets start with that chemistry knowledge. Monosodium glutamate is a sodium salt (where sodium is that ‘Na’ in the diagram above). In chemistry, what we find with salts is that because they have those little positive and negative signs (charges), they are easier to dissolve in water than things without those charges. They also form crystals much more easily (see sodium chloride once again, those nice crystallised pieces of table salt!)


Mmmm, delicious salt. 

That’s all well and good, but what does that have to do with anything? Well, to give you a little more chemistry knowledge, I’d like to show you another chemical structure. This time, it’s glutamic acid.


Glutamic acid.

Wait a minute, that looks just like… ? Before we go any further, let’s talk about glutamic acid. Glutamic acid is an amino acid, which means that it is a part of many of the foods that we consume each day. Why? Because amino acids make up protein. Protein is present in many foods and beverages, including meats, milk, eggs, nuts, and legumes. The funny thing about glutamic acid is that it is considered non-essential in the human diet; in other words, it is’t necessary for us to eat proteins with lots of glutamic acid BECAUSE WE MAKE IT IN OUR BODIES ANYWAY.

So I could go into detail about how MSG got the bad rap it appears with today, but I think that the American Chemical Society have done a much better job: Check out the Video “Is MSG Bad for You?“, which was created by the ACS (You can follow their Facebook page on Everyday Reactions here). The take-home message from the video is one of the very things I am trying to prove in my blog: If someone tells you that something is bad for you but you can’t find a definitive answer as to why, then it is YOUR job to dig in and research.

While you’re out watching and learning, there’s also this fantastic infographic by Compound Interest: You can view the infographic below, or click on this link for a larger version.

MSG infographic


The Undeserved Reputation of MSG.

Enjoy, and feel free to comment with your thoughts, or any questions you have which I can address in future posts 🙂


One thought on “MSG: The devil in disguise or disguised as the devil?

  1. One of the theories regarding ‘Chinese Restaurant Syndrome’ is that it is not the MSG but the inclusion of histamines from suspect manufacturing practices that gives the flushes and other effects.

    Note also that the claim, often seen on food and in restaurants, “No MSG” is generally wrong as it is naturally present in so many foods. “No Added MSG” is more correct but often technically wrong as stock powders and soy sauce often have it and so when is it ‘added’ and when is it ‘introduced’?

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