When I was in college, I had to take a mandatory science class. As a communications major, the idea of being required to take a science class in order to move on with my life felt so unjust. Luckily, I heard about a professor who cooked in his chemistry classes, so I chose his over the others. Despite only barely passing, I learned for the first time that biology and chemistry are the keys to flavor and mouth feel balance! The best food is made with a deep understanding of how food reacts to various degrees of manipulation and how flavors interact with each other. All these years later, that experience is still helpful.
Did you know “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” was invented in 1968? Not identified, not discovered, not researched, but yep, invented.
Before 1968, Americans loved monosodium glutamate. The “new” condiment was introduced to the U.S. just 30 years prior and was added to a variety of foods to enrich flavors. The American public embraced it with open arms until… Dr. Robert Ho Man Kwok wrote a speculative letter to the New England Journal of Medicine.
We here at MSGdish love recounting the story of Dr. Kikunae Ikeda’s original discovery of the little crystals that would one day became known as MSG (monosodium glutamate). While Ikeda certainly did not invent the umami taste– it has been in the foods of many cultures for centuries– he was the first to distill the crystallized form of umami so that it could be used in an even wider variety of foods! You see, before Dr. Ikeda, there was no simple way to sprinkle pure umami seasoning on food.
Tokyo, Japan is the city with the most Michelin-starred restaurants in the world; in fact, the entire country of Japan has 429 restaurants with the honor. No other country comes close. It’s safe to say that Japan is one of the top culinary destinations in the world. Chefs and foodies alike have speculated about why Japan has been able to uphold this unique honor for nearly decade: some say it’s the small restaurants that allow for attention to detail, some say it’s the island’s ability to produce fresh and dynamic produce year-round, some say it’s the distinctive umami flavor present in so many dishes that is responsible for Japan’s food successes.
Dan Pashman, author, public speaker, host and self-described “eater, not foodie,” started his year off right. In January, Pashman’s podcast, The Sporkful, released an episode titled “This Podcast Contains MSG.” The two-time James Beard nominated podcast began the episode by playing media clips from horrified people claiming to have fallen ill due to MSG exposure. Pashman takes over the narration and describes the story of Dr. Ho Man Kwok’s personal anecdotal speculation that led to the coining of the phrase Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.