Is MSG Bad For You? Chefs and experts don’t always agree

Eat Drink

March 9, 2023 | 6:35 p.m

Chef Calvin Eng at Bonnie’s, a popular Cantonese-American restaurant in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is an outspoken proponent of using monosodium glutamate in cooking; MSG is already found in popular American foods like the Chick-Fil-A sandwich. NY Post photocomposite

It’s a busy night at Bonnie’s, Brooklyn’s viral Cantonese restaurant, and the bartender is mixing a martini — with a whole different kind of twist.

“Almost everything on the menu contains MSG,” enthuses Bonnie’s pioneering celebrity chef and owner, Calvin Eng.

Apparently including the martinis, which taste more like chilled miso broth than your usual vodka and brine combo.

Eng, a head-turning star who’s been showered with accolades from both local and national food media, has become something of a hype man for monosodium glutamate, the lower-sodium salt and flavor enhancer that adds an umami kick to everything it touches.

Found in All-American favorites like Campbell’s Chicken Noodle, Chick-Fil-A Condiment, and even the snack staple Doritos, chefs — particularly Asian chefs — have for some reason been forced to spend decades debating their use of the cooking staple To defend.

Bonnie’s in Williamsburg isn’t shy about using MSG in everything from entrees to cocktails. Stefano Giovannini for NY Post MSG gives the martini an umami kick at Bonnie’s. Eng is known for his playful approach to the McRib sandwich.

Anti-MSG sentiment, widely believed to have xenophobic origins, dates back to the late 1960s, when reports of diners reacting badly after consuming dishes containing the often-misunderstood ingredient arose a so-called Chinese restaurant syndrome. And while an article detailing the so-called disease in a then-well-known medical journal was later reported as a hoax, MSG’s reputation has suffered ever since.

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Lately, however, the much-maligned additive is having a moment where chefs like Eng say it’s enough and give the once-secret ingredient their coming-out party.

“A big part of our mission from the start has been to educate our guests about what Cantonese food is and what it can be,” Eng told The Post.

“This is also an opportunity to educate people that MSG isn’t bad for you — it’s literally a natural part of most foods you eat.”

Diners at Bonnie’s one last night. The restaurant has received awards from both the local and national press. Stefano Giovannini for NY Post Cacio e pepe at Bonnie’s gets an extra kick of fu yu (fermented tofu), along with the traditional pecorino and black pepper. Eng has become something of a hype man for using MSG in cooking. Alex Lau

Evangelical Eng hones MSG-embossed T-shirts and proudly shouts the ingredient on his menu.

“I think that makes a bigger difference,” he says. “It is very enriching to know people today who prefer to use it and feel comfortable with it. It’s part of many people’s pantries.”

Lunar, a Brooklyn-based hard seltzer company that hawks MSG in its canned libations, is also pleased to see the tide turning.

“Calvin’s approach to Bonnie’s truly embodies what Cantonese-American cuisine looks like on the table,” says Lunar Founder Kevin Wong. “It’s a shame that a myth with racist origins from decades ago is still floating around preventing people from experiencing truly great cuisine.”

Kevin Wong, founder of Lunar, a Brooklyn-based maker of hard selzer that uses MSG in its recipes, is heartened by the shifting perception.

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Chris Cheung, owner of popular Brooklyn restaurant East Wind Snack Shop, says he’s been “insulted” for using it in his food — not that he’s jaded.

“As a chef, I see it as a wonderful cooking product that enhances many flavors and is an integral part of many dishes,” he told the Post.

Due to ongoing concerns about the amino addition, he says it’s sometimes going down for customers.

“I call it magic spice granules because they really are part of the magic of cooking,” he said. “Sometimes you have to break the ice with people.”

Chef Chris Cheung at Brooklyn’s East Wind Snack Shop says taking a gentler approach to anxious customers can sometimes lead to success.Leslie Brienza

“A lot of Asian chefs have been quietly using MSG in their kitchens because there’s this stigma,” says Dan Q. Dao, founder of food advisory agency District One. He’s heartened to see popular restaurants like Bonnie don’t hesitate to confront the issue head-on.

“What they’re saying is they love our food and we use MSG. It helps change things. I’m glad they’ve been so vocal about it,” he said.

The modern pro-MSG movement can be traced back to Momofuku mastermind David Chang, who has long been a vocal advocate of the additive and has called his efforts debunking MSG myths “one of the best things I’ve ever done.” .

Momofuku’s David Chang, pictured here in 2009, was an early proponent of the use of MSG in modern cooking. Bloomberg via Getty Images

As cooks surge ahead, the medical community continues to take a more conservative approach.

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The Mayo Clinic says that while MSG is “generally recognized as safe,” it warns that “the FDA has received many reports of worrisome reactions — including headaches and tingling — from people attributed to foods containing MSG.”

“For at least 1% of the population, MSG sensitivity is very real, so if you feel sick within a
If you consume food with MSG for a few hours, something happens that definitely cannot be ignored,” said Dr. Gill Hart, a food intolerance expert at sensitivity testing company YorkTest, told The Post.

The medical community takes a conservative view of the use of MSG, but acknowledges that research is ongoing. Getty Images/iStockphoto Chick-Fil-A has said that “MSG is present in some of our menu offerings as a flavor enhancer.” Stefano Giovannini

However, Hart acknowledged that the research is still ongoing.

“New evidence has shown that dietary MSG is indeed broken down in the gut and does not cross the blood-brain barrier, meaning it may be difficult for scientists to link MSG consumption to this.” [any] symptoms,” she said.

And how does Eng respond when someone is reluctant to include MSG in their food and drink?

“We rarely got guests like that,” he says. “But they definitely exist and come in here and there. It’s an opportunity for us to meet them with the facts.”

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