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MSG (621) – friend or foe?

Mono-sodium glutamate (or MSG) is a relatively simple, albeit powerful white powder that can be added to meals. It is known as flavour enhancer, MSG or 621 when you read an ingredient panel. The ad campaign for a well-known chip company warned us that once we had opened the chip packet, we wouldn’t be able to stop (and would eventually eat the whole container). The lovely reason behind this is partly due to willpower but more importantly due to this noxious little ingredient.

621 is commonly added to many, many foods to enhance their existing flavour. Once limited to Chinese restaurants (hence the name – Chinese restaurant syndrome), it can now be found in any product whose ingredients listing is longer than 2 lines. Manufacturers add it primarily to savoury foods as it acts on a brain chemical that increases our desire to eat the food and our appetite. It produces a mild, salty flavour on the tongue but essentially makes the potato chips taste better, the stir-fry have more flavour and the basting sauce bring out more of the yumminess from the meat you’re roasting. We have to take a step back for a moment and ask ourselves, if this substance isn’t natural and if it has the ability to make a steak taste like it’s been marinated for 3 days in herbs and spices (when it’s only been brushed in a sauce 5 minutes ago) then something has to be unnatural. Something has to be suss about this. Hmm. Makes you think doesn’t it. Perhaps the reason you ‘couldn’t quite stop at just one corn chip’ had more to do with the chemical cocktail of ingredients in your chip packet than you realised.

MSG has seriously strange side effects. In some it can be deadly (asthmatics for example) but in most people, after their meal at the local Chinese restaurant they find an unbearable need to drink copious amounts of water through the night, keep waking up to go to the toilet and have the most spectacularly colourful and often disturbing dreams—ones that would make the writers of Inception blush.

I don’t know about you, but this certainly doesn’t sound like a friend to me. Be aware. Be conscious. Food was not meant to be a series of numbers.