About 18 million bushels of Midwest corn are purchased each year by Ajinomoto, a Japanese company with a processing plant in Eddyville, Iowa. There, with assistance from Cargill, the corn is used to make MSG: monosodium glutamate. And if still believe the myth that MSG in Chinese food makes you sick, consider that it’s also present in Italian, Mexican, and many other types of food. In fact, glutamate is found naturally in dozens of foods from tomatoes to breast milk. MSG is the product of a Japanese scientist trying to identify the flavor in his wife’s seaweed soup — not sweet, not sour, not salty, not bitter — and he came up with a savory flavor he labeled umami, which means “essence of deliciousness” in Japanese. And by reverse engineering the ingredients in his wife’s soup, he found the key was glutamate. When he added table salt, he created monosodium glutamate as a food additive, patented the process, and a multi-billion dollar corporation was created. But, thanks to scientifically unfounded claims in 1968 by a doctor who said he didn’t feel well after eating Chinese food, “NO MSG” signs started popping up on Chinese restaurant windows and menus. Ajinomoto, fighting a decades-long battle to clear MSG’s name, created the “KNOW MSG” campaign. It’s getting help from many high profile chefs who regularly use it, and many people, including the late chef Anthony Bourdain, have pointed out “NO MSG” has its roots in racism, not science. In the audio clip below, Tia Rains, Vice President of Customer Engagement and Strategic Development at Ajinomoto’s North American headquarters in Itasca, Illinois, shares more information about MSG with WGN’s Steve Alexander.
The Ajinomoto processing plant in Eddyville, Iowa, where MSG is made from Midwestern corn. (Ajinomoto photo)
If you like the savory flavor created by MSG, you can thank Midwest corn farmers. And about "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome?" It isn't real and has roots in anti-Asian racism.