All Episodes

September 5, 2019 56 mins

MSG got a bad rap in the 70s and 80s. But what is it exactly and how bad is it for you? The answers to those questions lie within. 

Learn more about your ad-choices at

See for privacy information.

Mark as Played

Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:00):
Hello, Stuff you should know, come and see us in
Orlando or New Orleans, because that's your last chance. Yeah, Orlando,
We're going to be at the Plaza Live October nine.
New Orleans We're going to be at the Civic Theater October.
Just go to s Y s K live dot com
and you will find info and links to buy tickets
and then you can come see us because they won't

let you in the door without them. I'm sorry, that's right.
And if you want to come see me, I will
be in Chicago at Lincoln Hall on September twelve, and
I will be in Austin, Texas at the North Door
on October two. Uh. Ticket links are weirdly hard to find,
so just look up End of the World, Josh Clark,
Austin or Chicago and you will find what you're looking for.

See you guys soon. Welcome to Stuff you Should Know,
a production of I Heart Radios How Stuff Works. Hey,
and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh Clark. There's Charles W.
Chuck Bryant. There's first time guest producer Dave Dave. Yeah,

he picked it up already that he already knows not
to say anything in response I love that for a
guest producer, don't you so. Dave's story Dave worked with
this many many years ago and went away. I don't
even know what Dave did in the meantime. He went
to Alaska. I think he wandered the desert. The heered.
He wandered back in one day and said, hey, I

hear you guys invented podcasting, right, Can I get a job? Yeah?
And here he is now. Yeah, it's good to have
him back. You may have noticed a distinct uptick in
the quality of our short stuffs. That's because Dave took
over editing those things. Yeah, Jerry was like, this isn't
even worth my time. Snooze yawn. Yeah, Jerry's been handing

off duties huh left dude, right, like she's dealing handed cards.
You know. The final straw one day is she's gonna
just look at us both. This is how she's gonna
quit and do the move when the dealer leaves the table. Yeah,
the little hand move. Yep, I'm out, I'm out. I
hate you both so much. That's how she's gonna break

it to us. And then a new person with a
cumber bun on we'll just wander in and an arm garter,
because we get a casinos in the nineteenth century, right,
a portly fellow with the mustache hair waxed. That would
be great, It would be great. Can't you see Jerry
dreaming about doing that, just kind of twitching in her

sleep with a big smile on her face. You and
I dream about stuff you should have going on forever,
and she dreams about it's ultimate to minds. Right, So Chuck,
let me ask you. Have you ever had nacho cheese dorito's? Uh?
Is that the original dorito? I don't know. I think
it's possible taco flavors the original. But for you and me,

as children of the seventies eighties, I would say nacho
cheese is the first one. We probably right? The red bag? Sure,
I'm a cool ranch guy. I like it too. Actually,
I like al doritos. I don't really discriminate. So you
have had nacho chritos? Yes? Have you ever had soy sauce? Oh?

I'm a big soy guy. I do not follow the
sushi uh what they say? How to eat sushi? Drown it?
Do you? I? I still use soy sauce, even though
every time I there's a weird little voice in my
head that's like, can I'm supposed to do? That? Is
probably you me sitting next to you. I say, no,
it's really not, because she uses a little bit too.

But I don't know it is. It's not male, it's
not female. It's just some weird disembodied voice. And I
say to heck with you voice, I'm doing it anyway. Um,
what about Maggie sauce? Have you ever had that? Oh?
I don't think so. Oh, I'll bet you have somewhere.
It's a kind of like a tall, slender brown bottle
with a yellow label, Maggie m A G G. I
I think I can picture it. Okay, I'll bet you've

had anyway, if you've had all three? Those? Are any
one of those? What about vegemite? Oh god, no, okay,
I've had vegemite. I'm not crazy for it, but we're
not here to yuck anyone's am right? Well, I got,
I got. I'm gonna throw one in because I see
what you're doing now, Okay, can I throw it in there?
Have you ever used accent? That is a c H

A little excent. Agu I believe ce nt that's spice.
I don't. I don't know if I have. I know
exactly what it is because I'm just so familiar with
grocery stores, but I don't know if I've ever had
which is so familiar with grocery store that's so familiar.
It's one of your talents. I've got another one for you.
You know, Japanese mayonnaise, the QP eat all mayonnaise. I
have had that. Okay, we could do this all day.

What about oysters? You ever had oysters? I love oysters. Okay, well, chuck, listen,
you have had MSG monosodium glutamate if you've eaten anyone
or all of those things, that's right. I love monosodium glutamate,
also known as MSG. And the world does two. The
world just doesn't know it because MSG, those three little words,

those three little letters, have such a bad reputation, especially
in the West, especially in America, that man food manufacturers
have come to basically bend over backwards to create new
processes for creating MSG so that they can insert them

into foods without having to say that there's MSG in
the food, even though there's very much MSG in the food.
But they know that a lot of Americans won't eat
that food if they see that there's MSG in there.
That's right, And we will get to this in more detail,
But it was such a bad thing at one point,
especially in the seventies and eighties. Yeah, Like I remember

growing up and people talking about MSG and Chinese restaurants,
and the whole time they were talking smack about Chinese restaurants,
a lot of American families were just dumping that stuff
all over their food via that little accent spice bottle. Yeah,
accent any kind of processed food that has any sort
of salty or savory kind of flavor to it, Like,

it's everywhere. It's in grape juice. It appears everywhere, naturally
and added because grape juice what you want is a meaty,
salty after taste. Swishing the grape juice around in your mouth,
you're like, Yeah, it's got a real oyster equality to it.
I love it. Are they natural and oysters? Is at
the deal? Yeah? Oysters clans they MSG. They like the

little trio of those three letters. Yeah. So the point
is that people are terrified of MSG or really can't
stand it. They say, maybe it gives them all sorts
of physical maladies. Perhaps they think it can can lead
to developmental disorders, and yet at the same time, they
consume m MSG every day without realizing it and without

being affected by it. So it's entirely possible. And you said,
we'll talk about this much more in depth later, that
the fear of MSG is a totally unfounded scientific panic
that is, uh, basically a no cebow reaction to something
that appears to be basically harmless to almost everybody who

consumes it. Yeah, so let's I mean, we're gonna be
busting some myths left and right. Like I call Adam.
Did you say I call Adam? Yeah, I call Adam.
You're Jamie this time. Nuts. Yeah, you gotta shave your
beard to just keep the mustache. Yeah yeah, and I

gotta grow that mustache out to where it covers both lips.
That's right. He had that big thing, but he disappeared.
Oh yeah, he said, thanks for the memories, suckers. Yeah.
My I always had was under the impression, just watching
that show and being a fan that he didn't want
to be there ever, Right, I think he liked the
science of it, he wasn't into the TV part of it,

I think so. I think his last day on set.
He was He was probably pretty stoked together, right, he
was like Jerry at the end of stuff, you should
know when it comes. Yeah, except he had millions of
dollars stuffed into his arm guarter exactly. All right. So,
monosodium glutamate is there's a lot of myths. One of
them is that you know, this is something that human

beings just created out of thin air. It's black magic.
And that is not true because it occurs naturally. And
a lot of foods. If you've ever had tomatoes and cheese,
those are a couple of big ones. Eat a pizza,
you're eaten naturally occurring MSG. Yeah, don't forget again. Oysters, anchovies, mushrooms, potatoes, um,

if you like Asian food, kelp seaweed, all that stuff
contains natural MSG or some form of glutamates. Yeah, and
such that the f d A like, if you get
a can of tomato sauce, if you haven't uh added
MSG otherwise, you don't have to put that on the

label because it's in the tomato. Right. But apparently in
the United States you also can't put something like no
added MSG or no MSG on the label because it's
been proven as misleading. She just don't mention MSG at all,
even though there is MSG in that tomato sauce. But
like you said, if the manufacturer says, these tomatoes have

a decent amount of MSG, but we really want to
pep it up a little bit with some added MSG,
then they definitely have to put that MSG is in there.
That's right. So, if you want to talk chemistry very briefly,
which is always the best way to talk about chemistry, uh,
it is monosodium glutamate. Is glutamic or glutamic acid? What

do you say? Glutamic glutamic and a little ion a
sodium just woop right there on top, right, and so
so that's it. That's monosodium glutamate. And so the difference
between glutamc acid, which is an amino acid that our
bodies produced were able to synthesize it by breaking down proteins,

it's actually um a glutamic acid, and any kind of
mineral ion bonded together is a glutamate. So if it's bonded,
if glutamic acid is bonded with an ion a sodium,
it's monosodium glutamate. If it's bonded with an ion of potassium.
It's potassium glutamate um. So there's like different minerals that

it can bond to, but the one we're talking about
is monosodium glutamate. And glutamate is extremely important to our bodies.
I saw somewhere that four pounds of us a little
a little under two kims um of any human being
walking around is glutamate. That's how that's how much of
it we have in our bodies at at any given

point in time. Yeah, and it it actually serves functions
to Glutamic acid is a neurotransmitter, and it's an excitatory neurotransmitter,
which that means it stimulates nerve cells to relay the signal.
And we'll get to the is it good or bad thing?
But some people one of the claims and sort of
where some of that is rooted aside from just propaganda,

is that MSG and foods can lead to excessive glutamate
in the brain and then excessive stimulation of nerve cells.
And for that reason, it's what's called an excitotoxin, right, Like,
it excites neurons so much that it actually destroys or
damages them. So you destroy enough neurons, then you destroy
your cognitive function. That's right, and we'll we'll hold the

rest of that to the UH for further mythbusting, mythbuff thing,
I like the extra mustard you put on it. So
as far as how much we're consuming, this is what
the FDA says, and this is a quote. An average
adult consumes approximately thirteen grams of glutamate each day from
the protein and food. And then this is just like
regular foods. While intake of added MSG is estimated to

be around point five five grams per day, So average
daily intake is about a half a grammed day. Right,
and so um you can find it again everywhere in
the body. You also find it in um, breast, milk, UM,
and glutamates are just everywhere. And so even if you
wanted to get away from M S G, you're not

really getting away from glutamates. And it would be you'd
be ill advised to get away from glutamates to begin with. Right,
the thing is, and this is where a lot of
people say, well, really, MSG is fine, there's no problems
with it. A lot of people say that it's kind
of consider settle science by some as we'll see um
that the body does not distinguish between manufactured MSG and

the MSG or other kinds of glutamates that it gets
from foods in which this naturally occurs. Right when your
body takes it in takes a MSG, it goes Okay,
let's separate the sodium ion and send it over here
for this use, and we'll break the glutamate down over here,
and we'll use it for us for neurotransmitting and to
build proteins. It doesn't make any any distinction metabolically speaking,

between MSG that's manufactured and MSG that you find in
like tomatoes, right. I think part of the problem started
in the sixties with the way it was synthesized. Yeah. Uh.
Anytime something is synthesized to a chemical process that has
you know, toxins and toxic byproducts, I think people are
going to freak out, even if the end result is

not toxic. Yeah. And it's pretty understandable too, because I mean,
some of the stuff we're talking about is very nasty,
and you think about it, You're like, wait, that's where
MSG comes from, and I'm eating it on my food.
I can I can commiserate with that big time, even
though a large part of my brain is like that's
just kind of a fear of science and chemistry. But

it's understandable. I mean, like in the for the first
half of the twentieth century, there was a process um
to produce MSG that include to propylene and acryla nitrial.
But you don't want to eat that, and you don't
eat it. It's just these were used to as precursors
to create ms G. That's how that's the process for

a while. But you can understand how it would get
a bad rep just from that alone. Yeah, but now
it's produced by fermentation. Basically, they take certain kinds of
bacteria and yeast and they grow that in a broth.
They basically use starches, various sugars, carbohydrates, and then the
bacteria ferments that sugar and they produce the glutamate. Then

they combine it with the sodium and it becomes it
looks sort of like salt. It's a white crystalline substance.
It doesn't really have much of an odor, and you
could just sprinkle it on top of your chocolate ice
cream if you wanted. You could. I think it actually
does in certain amounts bring out sweet I don't think
it does anything to sour bitter, but it can enhance

sweetness and enhance salty. No, it does have its own flavor,
which we'll see, but it's also known as a flavor enhancer.
To write like that, accent right, exactly accent. Why aren't
they sponsoring this episode? I don't know. They really should
either that or like, leave us out of this. We
don't want to get this kind of wrap there. Queenly,

we were under the radar for a large portion of
the twentieth century, right exactly until you guys came along.
Should we take a break? Oh wait, hold on, I
have a little more on fermentation. Of course, this is
very surprising. But the fermentation the waste water, what's left
over after you get the MSG out of this, like
sugar beet juice that the bacteria and yeast have fermented.

I read a study from um the Chinese National Academy
of Science. I believe Chinese Academy of Science. They called
um MSG wastewater one of the most intractable forms of wastewater.
We we produce it, yeah, because all of that yeast

and some of the ammonium that's produced as a byproduct
of it. It um consumes a lot of oxygen, so
it kills off other stuff and like water, So you
can't just dump this wastewater into other water because it'll
create like a dead zone wherever it hits. That does
it's bode well for people that you know are scared
of it. No, it doesn't. There's a lot of stuff
about I'm achieve where if you look at you're like, yeah,

I really understand it's really coincidental that this is actually harmless.
But there's all this like circumstantial peripheral stuff that's wastewater.
The wastewater will scorch, scorch the earth basically, Yeah, but
enjoy your enjoy your accent, chump, poor accent. All right now,
I'm okay with taking a break. All right. Uh, We'll

come back and talk a little bit, a little bit
of a refresher perhaps on umami. Right after this, so, Chuck,

we did an entire episode on New Mommy. Do you
remember that? That was a good one. It was. We
also talked about it in our episode on Taste and
how it works. But we should kind of go over
the broad strokes of it again, I think, yeah, I
mean up until uh, the early nineteen hundreds. Humans were
sort of since four d b C, when bitter was

added by a philosopher of all people named Democritis democratus
anything those philosophers couldn't do, I don't think so. It's
pretty broad title back then, but sweet, salty, sour, and bitter,
and we were locked into that and everyone was pretty

happy with that. Like I mess with it, you know,
I don't know they're still messing with it today. There's
just seen like six seven other candidates for a sixth taste.
I'm sure that will be happening at some point in
near future, don't you think. Yeah? And I think we
settled last time on carbon dioxide is going to be
the sixth taste? Really really wow, sad. We know it's

a good it's a goo and it does some some
magic to your tongue. I guess it does, doesn't it?
All Right, Well we'll see. Uh so here here's a
gentleman that comes along in nine nine and his name
is Kakuni Akita? Is that right? Uh? Not bad? What
did I get wrong? There's like an extra little half

syllable in there. Okay, Well I should just leave the
Japanese pronunciations to you. I think you basically knew I
should have just kept my mouth shut because it was
so close that I've got Europe blocked down? How selfish?
Can I be? Right? Exactly? You do? Kekunaya Akada in
an Italian accent. I don't think I can't. Just my

brain just broke. Uh. So he was a professor of
chemistry at Tokyo Imperial University and he was eating some dashi,
which is made from seaweed, a kelp called kombu, and
he was like, man, uh, this taste meaty, but there's
no meat in it, and it's super rich, and there's
something going on in here that I don't uh that

I can't quite pinpoint, and I think I might be
onto something. He said, where's the beef? You might have?
He totally did. So this is not like the first
time anyone ever realized, like, yeah, there's a there's something,
there's such a thing as a meaty taste or whatever.
But because we have been so locked into those the
idea that there's only four tastes. I mean, I remember

going to elementary school and being taught that too in
the in the eighties, basically just lied to over and
over again. Yeah, no one. No one said umami to
me until like even years ago. Basically yeah um. But
uh at Kada had figured this out way back in night.
He said, no, this is not just some flavor. This

is a taste sensation that is not one of the
other four. It's its own thing. And even more than that,
I've been doing some pretty neat experiments on kombo and
dashi and I've actually isolated what's giving this thing. It's
meaty taste. And by the way, I'm gonna call meaty
taste ou mommy, which means delicious or yummy um. And

it's called monosodium glutamate, that's right. Uh. And this was
not We knew about glutamic glutamic acid. Which way do
you say? Do you prefer glutamic? I mean, my my
mouth wants to say glutamic, but my heart wants to
say glue to me. My, got you so torn between
two lovers? You are just called it G acid? Yeah,

g acid. We knew about this stuff already. There was
a German chemist name Carl Einrich Rithausen beautiful and he
discovered this in eighteen sixty six. So that brings us
to another myth Weekend Bust. Here is that gluten like
because it's monosodium glutamate. People that have gluten intolerance, I

think that it's made with wheat gluten and that they
can't eat it. And that's not that's not true at all. No,
did you had you heard that before? I've heard I
think anything with the letters G l U in any food,
I think people that have gluten sensitivity are wary of. Right, Well,
what's interesting about this? I hadn't heard that, but this
makes total sense. The reason that it's even called glutamic

acid is because um Rittenhausen used wheat gluten to He
hydrolyzed it, basically broke it down like the acids in
your stomach breakdown food, to isolate UM the glutamic acid.
Since he used wheat gluten, he just kind of named
the acid after what he used the as the the precursor,

which was weak gluten. But it has no gluten in.
It has nothing to do with gluten. You can get
um MSG any number of ways that don't involve wheat
to ever. Tell you about the restaurant in Paris, the
Gluten Free Place. Emily and I went to, No, you
know what the name of it was what no glue, noice? Serious,
that's pretty great. Yeah, right in the middle of Paris,

and it was actually really good. I had a very
very delicious hamburger there. I can imagine, man, French cooking is, yeah,
even without gluten. And speaking of French cooking, there is
a guy who was using savory. That's what people in
the West called it. Even after a Keda came along
and said no, no, it's this is your mommy, it's
its own thing. The Western chefs were well aware of

this idea of savory. They just hadn't said this is
a fifth taste that humans are capable of tasting. Um
and Augusta Scoffier, who I had heard the name of before,
but I didn't realize. Um, he's the guy who basically
founded for classical cuisine as we understand it today. Yeah,
it was this guy. He invented the sauce. No, no,

he invented like French cooking. That was a joke. And
French is all about the sauces. It is about the sauce.
So yes, I'm sure he had a lot to do
with the sauce. But I was reading in an article
on him in Britannica and it was written by Nathan Mervold,
who was the first CTO of Microsoft. But it was
about this French cook from the nineteenth century. Yeah, he was.

He was big into animal stocks and he used veal
stock and kitten stock and puppy stock, all sorts of
baby animal stocks. Uh. And he knew about it, you know,
he was. We just didn't call it umami until it
was so named. No. And also one other thing about
escofi a. He also used something called Maggie sauce, which

had been invented several years before by Julius Maggie, who
was a Swiss miller. Um who came up with the
sauce in a scoffier was like, this is the bomb.
I think was the quote that he said. Um. So
people were aware of savory so much so that they
were creating sauces that really isolated the ommmy flavor. It
just again was a Kada who came along and said,

let's apply some science here. I give you, ladies and gentlemen,
the fifth taste. That's right. Uh, And it does taste. Um.
You know, there's a writer name Carla Lali. Music nice,
it's music, but I bet. She pronounces that music I
would if my last name was music, and she writes
sometimes for a bon epetite and um. She said, it's

sort of like salt mixed with the hydrated meat juice,
and it adds a lot to food. It can you
don't want too much of it. UM. You you can
sprinkle it on your food, but you don't really want
Like you can buy pure MSG, but it's not the
kind of thing that people generally do, like at home,
is by a big tub of MSG, and like sprinkle
it on stuff. It's usually mixed with other spices, yeah,

sent um. It can be mixed with other seasoning salt.
It gets mixed with most most often UM. And the
reason that you want to pre mix it is because one,
I mean, it's just easier to use. But there's certain
proportions you want to use. It doesn't take much MSG
to bring out the flavor and salt or for MSG
to kind of even stand on its own and lend
that umami flavored or whatever you're doing. So you don't

want to use too much. So you'd have to be
pretty proficient in you know, using MSG to just use
straight up MSG, which is why it's usually pre mixed
to begin with. Yeah, so Ikeda for his uh you know,
he was a smart guy, so he wasn't just satisfied
with discovering this and sort of sitting back and said,

one day on Wikipedia, I will be featured. He said,
I'm gonna make some money off of this. You've got
a business partner name, so well you should say all
Japanese names, okay, Sabaro Suzuki Jr. Yeah, so you do
it with the right flair. I've just been I've been
os to it so much like, Yeah, I like it.
I sound like an American and you sound like you're

trying to fit in. Thank you, thank you. So this
guy was already a part of the chemical industry, and
so it was a pretty natural relationship. They founded a
company called Ajuno Moto the Essence of Taste, and their
mascot was and is, well that's just okay, the Aji Panda.

I could have said that. You could have said that.
But they are still around today, and a couple of
years ago they they had about ten billion dollars worth
of sales of MSG. They're the largest producer and they
are literally pumping this stuff out on a year to
year basis. Yeah, funny enough. Um, I don't have a
bottle of accent in my pantry, but I do have
a bottle of Ado Moto. Oh yeah, yeah. Some listeners

gonna write and be like, what do you hate America?
I bet accent is not even made to America. I
wonder sometimes they do kind of slip it by, like
it's just been around for along. Everybody thinks like, well,
that's of course it's America. Yeah, like they chant USA
when they grab the bottle and sprinkle it on their foot.
So we should talk a little bit about the science

of whether or not MSG. You know, is it all
in people's head? Is it real? I'm really glad you
asked that, Chuck, I don't. I don't know. Well, I mean,
here's the deal. The FDA says, I remember, do we
do one on the f d A. Does the FDA
protect Americans? That's right, because that's where we remember. This

phrase generally recognized as safe. Gross. I think that also
came up in Our Dietary Supplements episode two. Yeah, it's
it's funny that a phrase meaning something is safe does
not make one feel any better. Generally, yeah, generally recognized
the safe does not mean safe and it doesn't mean

on safe because even though it's fairly settled science, they
can't say, like, absolutely, no way in in case is
MSG ever harmful at all to anyone in any amount. Yeah,
but I mean you can say that about basically anything,
and I hate I'm not trying to create a straw
man argument so much. You can say that about water.
There was a woman who drank too much water and

die of water toxicity. Um, you can die from too
much salt. And remember it doesn't take much MSG as
compared to salt um to be added to food UM
to to really you know, bring out the flavor or whatever.
So there's there's like a lot of well you can
basically there's nothing you could say, this is never going

to harm you, no matter how much you eat. And
I think that's kind of why they're saying generally recognized
this safe. I think the other aspect of it, though,
is that a lot of people do want to say, no,
this is just it's settled. I've seen that all over
the place while we were researching this is settled science.
I've read about a woman who wrote a book UM
exploring whether or not, you know, some food additives were

safe and she didn't even bother to include MSG in
the book because she she considered it so so settled.
But there is definitely a contingency of people out there,
including not just like worried parents or Facebook dwellers, like
actual scientists in in like the industry of food sciences
who are saying no, actually, there may be a small

group of people out there who experienced these symptoms um
that we we now call um MSG symptom complex but
what used to be called Chinese restaurant syndrome. But that overall,
like it's not going to developmentally harm your kid or um,
it's not going to um blow your brain up because

it's an excited toxin or anything like that. Yeah, So
here's the deal on the science. It's it is true
that increased glutamate activity can cause harm and that large
doses of MSG can raise the blood levels of glutamate.
But dietary glutamate, like we'll talk about some of the
experiments here in a second, but dietary glutamate is not

going to have any effect on your brain because it
can't cross the blood brain barrier, uh in large amounts.
So huh that's right, Oh yeah, for sure. So here's
the deal. If people experience like headache, muscle tightness, numbness, tingling, weakness, flushing,
these are all reported like symptoms of that syndrome. Um,

we're talking about dietary glutamate. Like they say, the threshold
that could cause those symptoms is about three grams in
a single meal. But if you remember, we said point
five grams is a daily average intake, So in a
single meal, consuming six times the average daily intake of
MSG could lead to something like that. And they're not

exactly sure why, but some researchers they, you know, they
have speculated that really large doses like that, like overdosing
on MSG, you may get little trace amounts crossing the
blood brain barrier. Got to that makes sense, and that
three grams in a single meal is straight up MSG
fed two people in an experiment who were on an

empty stomach, So like there's basically no situation where you're
going to accidentally poison yourself with MSG, so that you
would actually get that MSG symptom complex, right, And in
the early seventies, when this stuff started really becoming, like
you know, the devil spice, they were literally injecting baby

monkeys and mice with straight MSG and humans and humans,
and they didn't like it very much because they were
injecting large amounts of MSG into infant animals. Right, So
I read that there are pharmacological effects from injecting MSG,
like that's basically not not up for debate. And I

was like, well, sure, if you inject sugar or even
if you inject salt or something like that, you're you'd
be you know, the same problems. Actually, it's not necessarily true. Um,
you get kind of saline drips, you get um glucoset trips.
They're like people do inject salt and sugar and contolerate it.
So in injected form MSG is not good for you.

But no one injects MSG. And the fact that we
metabolize MSG by eating it, and that that's how we
actually in take MSG in small amounts through food, which
are guts then metabolized and turn into glutamate and sodium,
that it should not be harmful for you. That's the
that's what the science has found. That's right. And in

addition to these studies that injected baby mice, which is
sort of ridiculous. Um, these weren't even great studies anyway.
They were not double blind. Um ed found research that says,
you know, they were just basically lacking in design altogether. Right,
So they weren't good studies and they were wacky. And
how they uh the methodology, I think, well, yeah, which

is kind of I don't know, I guess it's surprising.
Maybe just scientists who weren't so great were the ones
who tended to be interested in it or where they
were rushing it out to market. I'm not sure. Food
science was just a little early, maybe so, but they
they they from the findings they of these early studies
and then replicated studies of the early studies that found

MSG to be harmful basically said no, this is not
this is not harmful. Yeah, probably if you injected, it's
not good, but don't inject it is is basically what
science said. And then um, there was there were further
follow up studies, you know, in the decades that followed
that said okay, well wait a minute, what about all
these people who are self reporting MSG allergies, who are

saying they're getting this complex of system or symptoms from
eating it like Chinese restaurants or something. Um. And so
there was investigation of that and what they found from
those studies is that they basically couldn't get it beyond
the placebo effect that there were you were just as likely,
if not in some cases more likely to report the

the MSG symptoms complex from a placebo then you were
if you were given actual MSG a pillow with MG
or something in it. So combined, all these studies combined
basically led the FDA to say, because the the symptoms
can't be consistently reliably replicated, and that there's all these

double blind placebo tests that have been done that show
placebo can bring it out too, we tend to think
that it's actually basically in almost everyone's heads, that's right.
Should we take another break? All right, we'll take one
final break, and we're gonna come back and talk about
a few reasons why the MSG scare was born right
after this so chucked um just despite the fact that,

like there's all the science out there that some people
are like, this is settled science, Like that is not
a phrase that even really has any basis in reality,
But that's that's what they're kind of the point with
people who say it settled science are saying like this
is as closest science comes, like it's stopped being afraid
of MSG. There's still plenty of people who don't eat
M S G who avoid it. I saw that. UM.

The International Food Information Council did a survey and found
that of Americans actively avoid MSG like they read labels
and if the thing says MSG is contained in this,
they they won't need it, which is more than people
who avoid caffeine, genetically modified organisms, or gluten, which was

really surprising to me. And when was that? Uh, that
was Oh man, you're killing me. It wasn't very long ago.
How about that, Well, it's been since the gluten scare
has happened. Yes, OK, yeah, I would guess. So, so
I would say within the last ten years that Paul
was done. But so there are people who are like,
I don't trust you, I don't trust the FDA. I

don't like the word that says generally UM. It scares
me that sometimes MSG is used as a preservative and
stabilizer in vaccines. I don't like those two being associated
with one another. Other people say I saw this, but
I couldn't see it. I saw the same mention basically
around the internet, and I couldn't find any source material.

So take this with a grain of salt, as it were,
but that msg um, the fermentation of MSG produces arsenic
and lead. People aren't really excited about that kind of thing.
And then there's that whole other subsection of people who
are like, it's a it's an excited toxin, and if
you eat too much of this, your brain is gonna
blow up. It's basically like a genuine flavor blast, is

what they're saying. So there are are a lot of
people who are afraid of msg um. But the question is,
you know, is it because msg really is harmful or
is it because it's you know, just a fear of
science and a distrust of the people who are supposedly
looking out for our well being well and a holdover
from the nineties, seventies and eighties when it was uh,

you know, it was all over the place of something terrible,
to the extent where restaurants and hotels and a lot
of them still do have these signs that say no
MSG like it's safe to eat here. Right. There was
a book written by a man named Russell Blaylock called
Excito Toxins Colon the Taste that Kills UH, And there

were rumors of you know that, you know, uh, Chinese
restaurants put it in their food because you get filled
up faster and you won't eat as much off the buffet.
Oh yeah, Oh you don't remember hearing that. No, yeah,
that was a big one. I I just fills you
up and so or makes you feel full, so you
know you're gonna get away with thirteen cents less less food, right.

I've actually seen UM that there there is an idea
that that um MSG does affect you in that way
it makes you feel fuller. But from what I'm seeing
that sciences is bearing out the opposite that they think
that people who eat MSG tend to be heavier than
people who don't use MSG because it may suppress lepton,

which is a hormone that tells us that we're full,
so we stopped eating. So the ideas the more MSG
you eat the the the less you're going to feel full,
or you're just not going to feel full and you're
going to keep eating more, which is a problem because
from what I'm seeing, you know, the whole like anti
odium thing that's kind of going on among health crusaders. Well,

UM in very much the same way that corn syrup
was allowed to replace fats in that whole fat free trend.
MSG is being added in increasing amounts to this low
sodium or even salt free stuff because it brings out
the flavor and salt. So if you add more MSG,

you can use less salt and on the package you
can say lower sodium. You don't say anything about the MSG,
but you can sell this thing is lower sodium or whatever.
So people who are worried about their harder, worried about
their salt and take will buy that, not knowing that
they're eating actually more MSG than they would be and
that may actually cause them to overeat. If indeed MSG

is linked to obesity, and the jury is still out
on that one as well, Yes, very much inconclusive at
this point. Yes, uh so a lot of this. This
is where the story gets kind of interesting, I think.
As far as the hysteria around M s G and
there was the was a letter written to the New
England Journal of Medicine in n from Dr ho mon

quak uh kW Okay and he was a senior research
investigator at a place called the National Biomedical Research Foundation.
He immigrated from China, and he said, you know what,
after I eat at Chinese restaurants here in the United
States Chinese American food, I feel malaise, I feel some

of these symptoms that people always list out, these adverse reactions. Uh.
And I think I'm speculating here that it's because they're
using a lot of MSG over here, right, which I
think the implication was they don't really use MSG in
China because they're better chefs, like good, really good chefs

kind of look down their nose at using MSG because
it's a cheat. Um, you can bring MSG out, you
can bring glutamates out and food through like patient um,
slow and low hooking techniques, or you can just take
a shortcut and put a little MSG on it and
you're gonna get to basically the same place. Right. So,
in one way, you almost have the idea that he

was saying, like, Chinese food in China is superior to
Chinese food in America, but he was saying probably. But
he was saying, um, like I actually feel physically unwell
after I eat in Chinese restaurants in America, yeah, exactly,

which is a big difference than Chinese food in China
is better than Chinese food in America. Right, And this
was not you know, a letter to the editor. This
was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, right
by a doctor. Yeah, so it was a big deal.
And um, here's what happened after that. Uh, this letter,
like it was sort of a domino effect and even

though he was a Chinese American and he had probably
the best of intentions, it gets picked up and then
all of a sudden, there are white people in America
writing racist articles with like broken English headlines, very much
like making a caricature out of Chinese people, Chinese food,
Chinese immigrants, Chinese chefs. And it devolved into jokes and like,

this is the era that we grew up in in
the seventies and eighties, where like we remember this stuff. Sure,
And in very short order, Dr Quac didn't coin this,
but um, some of the letters, the follow up letters
in response that the New England Journal of Medicine started
to print, UM coined this term Chinese restaurant syndrome. That's right,
where basically, if you aid at a Chinese restaurant in America,

because of the copious amounts of MSG that was used,
you could feel weak, lightheaded, your your neck and face
could feel tight or flushed or both. You might feel woozy, um,
you might have heart palpitations, any number of things, headaches,
allergies might get set off, your asthma might get set off. Um.

And all of these things combined came to be called
Chinese restaurant syndrome. And here's the thing you said it.
Doctor Quak's letter was a letter. It wasn't a study.
He didn't say, here's a study, let's peer review it.
It was a letter that got some response, pretty much
tongue in cheek, joking responses in the New England Journal
Medicine and the non medical media saw this and said, oh,

let's start reporting on this, and started reporting on it
as if it were scientific fact that MSG caused these
symptoms and that you would get this from eating at
Chinese restaurants. That's right. So none of it had to
do with eating eight pounds of Chinese food at a buffet. Sure. Sure,
And even Dr Kwak in his letter said, maybe it's
soy sauce, maybe it's cooking wine, maybe it's um. I

can't remember. I think the copious amounts of sodium. And
people even still today say, hey, maybe Chinese food does
do something to you, but is it possible it's one
of the spices or herbs or plants that's used extensively
in Chinese cuisine. Who knows. Yeah, and it you know,
it can be salty food, especially when you're dumping soy
sauce on top of already salty food. Sure, But the

point that the point is it's not clear at all
that there is such a thing as Chinese restaurant syndrome,
that there is any kind of response that anyone actually
gets to this, or is it all just the power
of suggestion? That's right, And the story gets a little
weirder here as far as this letter goes. So they
published a letter New England Journal of Medicine, and apparently

there there's a history there of like joke letters, like
onion style stuff, I guess, uh, fake syndromes, silly letters.
A lot of letters in response to this uh quack
letter had this um sort of took this angle where
they were doing that, and some of them suggested that

it was a fake letter and the name home man
Quawk was a pun human croc and it was all
just cooked up, right, So that's the foundation. Then in
two thousand teen, Dr Howard Steele, Uh, this guy put
a response to, I know, to an article about this controversy,
and he called a reporter and said, you know what,

I wrote that letter way back then. He said, I
was trying to win a bet to see if I
could get a fake letter in the New England Journal
of Medicine. So that became the story for a while
that this one letter that had kicked off this potentially
totally unfounded fear of MSG and Chinese food restaurants UM

had was not only like baseless, but it had been
written as a prank by a white doctor who made
up a funny sounding Chinese name, and UM that he
had basically pranked everyone everyone in America for the last
several decades. That's how it stood for a little while.
But it turns out that even that wasn't correct. And

we have our friends over at this American Life, our
friend slash Rivals over at this American Life, UM to
thank for exposing this, Howard Steele dude, because they dug
in a little further. Yeah, who are you gonna turn to?
The Podfather? Yeah? Mr Glass, dr Ira Glass the Podfather?
I thought that was maren No. I always called Ira

Glass the Podfather. Really, Yeah, I always thought you were
referring to Marin every time. It makes a lot more sense.
Isn't Adam Curry the podfather? Well? I think technically probably
is that an urban legend that he was the first podcaster? Yeah,
I don't know. I think that's gotta be true, right,
I don't know. It sounds great, so yes, of course

it has to be true. I mean, Jesse Thorne was
around before Maren. Sure, well we were around before Marin
were we barely? Just barely. He'll never live it down.
So in Uh, this was this year in two thousand nineteen.
As we record this, this American life poked around like
they like to do. They found out that Dr Steele,

who was dead at this time, was it was kind
of a real jerk because doctor Quake was a real
person who was now also dead, and his children are
not too happy about all this. They confirmed, like, no,
my dad was doctor Quak. That is his real name. Yeah,
it's not a joke name. No, he wrote this letter.

He did work. There is a really a place called
the National Biomedical Research Foundation, Because I guess Steele said
that wasn't even a real thing, right, he said he
made up the whole thing, and and this daughter was
a sort of exasperated, was like, no, that was my dad.
He worked there, he wrote that letter, and this doctor
Steele sort of uh like, what's his what's his problem?

Basically his So his daughter explains on This American Life that, Um,
her dad was the kind of guy who would just
play a prank like this, and when he was finally
found out, we just refused to apologize because you should
have had your head on straight better and shouldn't have fallen.
He was that kind of guy. Um. And on the
one hand, I mean, he was an important physician. He

apparently invented some um, some orthopedic surgical techniques that are
still used today. Um. But he was also uh kind
of a jerk from what I can tell. He's pull
out the chair from under you and you fall on
the floor, and he's like what you don't reach back
to see if your chairs there? Basically that's kind of
how his daughter portrayed him in a certain way, lovingly

because it's her dad. But you should you know, did
you hear that that segment episode? So yeah, it's real
cringe inducing to hear. Um. Lily Sullivan on This American
Life break the news to Dr Steele's daughter that like,
he didn't make up that letter, that he was lying
about that all these years, She's like, oh God, what

has he done now? So the uptake of or the
upshot of all of this is that there was like
steel really confounds everything. But if you take steel out
of the equation, what your left was is a Chinese
American um doctor I think a pediatrician who wrote a
letter back in from what I can tell, very earnestly

and with good intentions, saying, hey, don't you think this
is weird? What is this kind of thing? Um, Here's
here's what happens to me when I eat Chinese from America.
Here's what I think it is that just set off
this uncritical and um kind of pretty racist examination of it,
that that the whole country just kind of took on
as fact for decades. And your beloved accent, Chuck, how

does that play into this? Well, I mean I don't
use it, you well know, but it had been around
for a good twenty years before um doctor Quake's letter
was published, Right, I'm sure American has been using that
stuff for ages, right, And no one had ever complained
of any symptoms from MSG It wasn't until that one

single letter, and that fascinating. What an odd story? You
got anything else? Now? Okay, Well, if you want to
know more about MSG, go try Maggie or Combo or
what was it? Oysters? Sure, tomatoes, cheese. Go try all
that stuff. You're gonna love it. And since I said

that it's time for listener mail, well you got a
listener mail follow up, don't you? I do. I have
two things, Chuck. First, I want to give a little
heads up to everybody in my Chicago End of the
World show is coming up on September twelve, and there
are tickets still available. I'll be at Lincoln Hall and
you can get tickets at lh dash st dot com. Uh.

Don't be a jerk and spell out dash. It's just
the dash symbol. Uh. And then yes, I have an
update for a listener mail. Do you remember the listener
mail author Kate who wrote in at the end of
the Nuclear Semiotics episode. Sure she had said that she
had under gone like a big breakup and drove from

Phoenix to Charlotte and listen to us the whole time. Well, uh,
when we read that, almost immediately we got an email
from another listener named Jeremy who lives in Charlotte, who said,
sorry to hear about your breakup, but welcome to Charlotte
from another S Y s K listener, it's a great
I don't know about that. It's a great city, and

I hope you have a new start, a great new
start here, which I just thought was so nice that
I found Kate's original email and got in touch with
her and just just forwarded just that part, copied and
pasted it and forward Jeremy's whole email because you know, no,
and I'm glad I'm not trying to pay play matchmaker
because in response, I got an update from Kate and

she says, thank you. I'm doing so well now. I
made a new group of friends at my own apartment,
a new teaching job, and I'm even dating someone new.
It ended up being the best decision I've ever made.
She said, thank you for sharing my sener mail. You
guys rock and then the metal fingerhand emoji. Is she

dating the guy? I don't think so. That would have
been really fast, right, but but um, yeah, well you're
the one who introduced it. I never said that. I
think I would just being nice. I think it clearly
was headed towards a romantic ending. Now, oh oh, sorry,
I didn't realize. I've seen too many movies. I guess
I think you have to. You're like, come on, you've

got mail. All right, Well, I'm glad everyone's happy. Uh.
It doesn't have to end like a Meg Ryan movie. Uh. No,
it doesn't, but it sounds like it came pretty close. Actually,
all right, I love it. Uh So, way to go
Kate and making a bold decision that paid off. So now,
listener mail or should we or does that count? Should

we just end? Um? I don't know, man, that's up
to you. How good is the listener mail? That's pretty good.
Let's go ahead and read it. Okay, Uh this is
from Veronica. She's she said, hey, guys, on the content
of your show that I love, I hold a special
place in my heart for the community your show has
fostered that I experienced at your Chicago show this summer,
which was just a few weeks ago. I attended that

show during and by the way, she started listening to
this show when she was in the sixth grade and
now she's like a working adult. That's cool. Yes, it's
it's the best I attended the show in a very
particularly difficult week. My childhood dog of seventeen years had
passed away that day. I had just moved across the

country for a job with a lot of new responsibilities
and challenges, and I was trying to establish some new
routines in a big city where I knew no one.
I was sitting in the third to last row of
that theater with anxiety heavy in my heart, and then
seeing both of you guys for the first time and
hearing your voices made me feel like everything was gonna
be okay. It's hard to put into words how tangible

the happiness and that theater was, And people, if you
don't go to these live shows, there's tangible happiness there,
really there is, you know. Yeah, well you have not
paid this listener to say this or give this testimonial. Yeah,
come for stuff, you should know. Stay for the tangible happiness, right,
you can squish it through your fingers like jelly. She said,
I've never been to any sort of event with such

a joyful crowd. This is amazing, and she capitalized joyful.
At the end of the show, Chuck talked about his
late dog Buckley. Remember the last question the night was
this cute little girl who said, which dog who was
dead do you miss the most? She said it nicer
than that, But I said Buckley, And she said that
brought me to tears in the theater, not only because

this was the same name as my own dearly departed
dog who died that day. This has just descended into
like joyful chaos. I know, right, I can barely hang
on man. She said. Also, it felt like such a
weird coincidence of this universe, and I couldn't explain it.
Having recently graduated college, I'm starting my first job as

a teacher in fall and attribute a large part of
my desire to go into education to you guys. Thanks
for instilling me a love of learning, pursuing intellectual curiosities,
and sharing those curiosities enjoys along the way with others.
And she shouts out some friends Caroline VZ in Philadelphia,
Joanne l and Ava Maria Florida. They are two fellow

stuff you should know enthusiasts. And her name is Veronica,
newly transplanted to Chicago from California. Well, welcome to Chicago, Veronica. Yeah,
I'm sorry to hear about Buckley, but I'm glad that
you could help grieve that loss with friends, joyful friends.
That's right. Uh, Man, that was amazing. Thanks a lot

for that letter of Ronica. That was great. Uh. If
you want to get in touch with this, like Veronica
did or Kade or Jeremy, you can go on to
stuff you Should Know dot com and check out our
social links, or you can send us a good old
fashioned email, Wrap it up, spank that puppy on the bottom,
and send it off to stuff podcast at iHeart radio
dot com. Stuff you Should Know is a production of

iHeart Radio's How Stuff Works. For more podcasts for my
heart Radio, visit the iHeart Radio app, Apple Podcasts, or
wherever you listen to your favorite shows. H

Stuff You Should Know News

Advertise With Us

Follow Us On

Hosts And Creators

Josh Clark

Josh Clark

Chuck Bryant

Chuck Bryant

Show Links

Order Our BookRSSStoreSYSK ArmyAbout

Popular Podcasts

The Bright Side

The Bright Side

Start your day with The Bright Side, a new daily podcast from Hello Sunshine. Co-hosted by journalist, TV host, and podcaster, Danielle Robay and Emmy-nominated journalist, host, and producer, Simone Boyce, The Bright Side brings your daily dose of culture and inspiration – with the latest trends, celebrity interviews, and real conversations with women doing amazing things while navigating life’s transitions, big and small. The Bright Side is a talk show created to inspire, educate, and empower women as they tackle life each day and add joy to their morning routines. Join Danielle and Simone and the Hello Sunshine community every weekday for entertainment, culture, wellness, books, and more.

Ways To Win

Ways To Win

Winning is an everyday mindset, and the coaches are here to help. Hosts Craig Robinson and John Calipari use their on-court wisdom to solve your off-court problems. Hosted on Acast. See for more information.

Dateline NBC

Dateline NBC

Current and classic episodes, featuring compelling true-crime mysteries, powerful documentaries and in-depth investigations.

Music, radio and podcasts, all free. Listen online or download the iHeart App.


© 2024 iHeartMedia, Inc.