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The lingering racism behind ‘unhealthy’ MSG and ‘dirty’ Chinese kitchens

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Racism can be so deep-seated that it can affect what we eat. I had no idea that my almost lifelong belief that MSG, the popular name for the flavouring additive monosodium glutamate, was bad for health, was the result of anti-Chinese bias. Stay away from Chinese restaurants unless they have a sign in the window saying, “We don’t use MSG”, became the mantra and I stuck religiously to it.

Only recently did I learn that there is no evidence proving the claim and that the chemical abounds in a lot of food as a taste-enhancer.

Japanese scientist Kikinae Ikeda created MSG in 1908 as a result of searching for what made the country’s kitchen staple, seaweed, so flavourful. He isolated glutamate, found naturally in a wide variety of food including potatoes, tomatoes, mushrooms, peas and grapes, and mixed it with water and table salt to stabilise it, creating an ingredient he described the taste of as umami, Japanese for “savoury”.

Others in the country, in China, and elsewhere in Asia and the world, also thought so and the company he set up to produce and market MSG remains the global leader. The white crystals are used in a wide variety of packaged and processed products including crisps, frozen........

© South China Morning Post