The Spicy History of the Scariest Seasoning
MSG and the Nocebo Effect
This video is part of our Kite & Key Shorts series—easy to understand...but hard to forget.
Why are Americans so scared of MSG in their food?
It all started in 1968, with a letter in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Not a peer-reviewed, scientific study. A letter to the editor. From one guy.i
In the letter, Dr. Robert Ho Man Kwok observed that after eating Chinese food he felt numb, sweaty, and otherwise ill.ii
Kwok speculated that MSG might have been the cause, and started a decades-long panic in the process.iii
What does the research say?
Subsequent studies have repeatedly shown that Dr. Kwok’s thesis was incorrect.iv
For the vast majority of Americans, MSG is totally safe.
A tiny portion of the population can get sick from MSG, but only if they eat about six times the normal amount, on an empty stomach.v
So, why do 40% of Americans still refuse to eat MSG? vi
The nocebo effect.
Being told that something is bad for you can make you think you’re experiencing symptoms, even when they’re not real.vii
MSG is found in common foods like Pringles and Campbell’s Soup—but because people don’t know it’s an ingredient, they don’t report symptoms.viii
In reality, the only real side-effect from MSG...is deliciousness.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
- A single letter from a doctor convinced generations of people MSG makes you sick.
- Scientific research has repeatedly demonstrated that MSG is safe.
- Complaints about sickness disappear when consumers don’t know foods contain MSG.
- “A Short History of MSG: Good Science, Bad Science, and Taste Cultures” — JSTOR
- "The Strange Case of Dr. Ho Man Kwok" — Colgate Magazine
- “Science Suggests Msg Really Isn't Bad For Your Health After All” — The World
- “Questions and Answers on Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)” — Food and Drug Administration
- "Why Americans Still Avoid Msg, Even Though Its ‘Health Effects’ Have Been Debunked" — Washington Post
- "How MSG Got A Bad Rap: Flawed Science And Xenophobia" — FiveThirtyEight
- "8 Foods That Contain MSG" — HealthLine
SOUND: RAGTIME ONE, DWAYNE RUSSELL
FOOTAGE: DREW TAYLOR (UNSPLASH)
CITED SOURCES AND NEWS OUTLETS ARE NOT AFFILIATED WITH THIS PRODUCTION.
“A Short History of MSG: Good Science, Bad Science, and Taste Cultures” (Page 7, Jordan Sand)
- Colgate Magazine
"The Strange Case of Dr. Ho Man Kwok" (Michael Blanding)
- The World
“Science Suggests Msg Really Isn't Bad For Your Health After All” (Chau Tu)
- Food and Drug Administration
“Questions and Answers on Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)”
- Washington Post
"Why Americans Still Avoid Msg, Even Though Its ‘Health Effects’ Have Been Debunked" (Caitlin Dewey)
"How MSG Got A Bad Rap: Flawed Science And Xenophobia" (Anna Maria Barry-Jester)
"8 Foods That Contain MSG" (Jillian Kubala)