The Chinese food that we eat today, en masse represents a largely delicious, sweet and salty, sour and spicy cuisine that has developed into a vast array of morsels that represents a distinct historical chronicle to Chinese immigration in the United States. What is a large commodity of the American lifestyle and cuisine choice in consumption, Chinese food has been historically represented as a casual and affordable option to dining but scarcely viewed as a fine dining option by American citizens. As part of one’s initial perception, locations and ideas such as Panda Express, Mei-Wah, and the notorious General Tso’s chicken immediately come to mind. However, in the history of its humble beginnings, Chinese food has far more in-depth flavors that are hidden under a blanket of cultural preference to cater and adjust to American palates.
Unfortunately, however, there have been many stereotypes and misinformation that the cuisine has garnered since its birth in the United States. Some of the most notable offenses include the criticism of the ingredients used, with MSG being an infamous culprit.
MSG stands for Mono-Sodium Glutamate, or what is known as the sodium salt in glutamic acid. It was discovered by German chemist Karl Heinrich Ritthausen, and again by Japanese researcher Kikunae Ikeda of Tokyo University after he discovered brown crystals that resided from boiling the broth of kombu or Japanese seaweed. Upon tasting the crystals, Ikeda coined the flavor that he experienced as umami. Today umami is recognized as the fifth taste among the quintessential sweet, salty, bitter, sour.
From there on, MSG has been used gratuitously in much of cooking in many cultures. However, on April 1968, MSG became demonized after Robert Ho Man Kwok published an article documenting several medical ailments he felt, including a headache, nausea, and numbness in the neck after having a meal at a Chinese restaurant. What ensued after this was a mass hysteria attributing all these medical conditions to that of MSG found in Chinese food. This collective of symptoms became known colloquially as Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.