Why did we add MSG in Vite Ramen?

Vite Ramen x MSG

MSG. These three letters, also known as monosodium glutamate, can cause some people to drop a product and run for the hills! It’s an often controversial topic, argued from moms to scientists all over, and is increasingly being phased out of mass market foods. So why did we make the conscious decision to add MSG into our product?

Simple answer: Because it’s safe and makes things taste awesome.

Complicated answer: Because we believe in evidence based nutrition, and omitting MSG is chasing a market trend that conflicts with our personal beliefs and values.

First things first:

 

First things first: What is MSG?

MSGs stands for the compound monosodium glutamate. We don’t play by the “if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it” rule (I didn’t know the correct pronunciation of “salmon” since middle school. We all have gaps!), so let’s break it down:

Mono = single

Sodium = salt

Glutamate = amino acid

Monosodium glutamate, then, is a single salt ion attached to an amino acid, glutamate. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and are constantly present in your body as well as in all sorts of your favorite foods! Glutamate, the amino acid in question, is present in significant quantities in tomatoes, mushrooms, parmesan cheese, and tons of other foods you eat every day! Your body even produces dozens of grams of the stuff every day.

In fact, glutamate is the primary compound responsible for the umami, or savory, taste. It’s one of the classic 5 primary tastes (barring relatively new concepts like kokumi):

Salty = sodium

Sweet = sugars

Sour = acids

Bitter = various bitter compounds

Savory/Umami = Glutamate!

*note: There are other compounds that can cause these sensations (e.g. aspartame being an amino acid that tastes sweet), but these are the primary ones!

 

But isn’t MSG bad for you?

Short answer: No. It’s in almost everything you eat, both natural and manufactured!

Long answer: Nooooooooo. And here’s why.

It’s important to ask a couple of questions when it comes to evaluating food related research:

Is the amount of ingredient tested realistic? It’s possible to have adverse effects or even die from drinking too much water, so it’s important to keep an eye on how much material the studies are using. If the studies test someone eating fifteen pounds of something in one sitting, it’s probably not very applicable to the regular person.

Does the testing method reflect realistic use? Ingredients behave very differently depending on whether they’re eaten or injected or whatever else. A bit of hot sauce on your tongue? Nice. A bit of hot sauce in your eye? Not so nice. A bit of hot sauce injected into your veins? Yeah, let’s not go there.

Does the organism studied accurately reflect humans? The further away from humans, the less weight a study holds. You wouldn’t want your doctor to say “try this drug, we haven’t tried it with people yet, but it worked ok in a petri dish”. Humans are complex organisms, different than individual cells, mice, or even apes.

Who is the study sponsored by? Although this doesn’t invalidate a study’s results, it’s still worth checking. A sponsored study doesn’t immediately make it trustworthy or not trustworthy, but it does deserve more scrutiny.

Do the results match the conclusions? This one’s a little more difficult and more time consuming, but it’s always worth at least skimming through the raw results to see if they match up with the conclusions.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, of course, but paying attention to these will get you pretty far in assessing scientific studies! Now let’s get back to MSG in particular.

There’s a strong scientific consensus that MSG is a safe and even potentially beneficial ingredient to use in foods. This Examine article does an absolutely stellar job of breaking it down, but for those who want a quick and dirty version, here it is:

Is MSG bad for you? In short, no! It’s just salt and glutamate, like we established above, both of which you likely eat every day!

Does MSG cause headaches? Almost certainly not. Most studies regarding the subject failed to produce significant results, while those that did generally were unable to reproduce the results during further testing. A fair amount of them use a very high dose of MSG as well, which isn’t indicative of normal use. We would like to point out the use of “almost” is there because absolute conclusiveness is difficult to achieve, and because we believe in good science, we tend towards not using absolute statements.

I get headaches after eating MSG though. What’s going on? Think about the types of food that normally contain MSG: chips, classic instant ramen, greasy spoon diner food, etc. Other than MSG, they all contain a high amount of sodium! In fact, the original historical letter raising concerns about MSG also heavily implies that it’s the MS, not the G, that’s the issue. More on that later! However, given that glutamates are, and always have been, extremely prevalent in our broth, traditional tonkotsu ramen broth, and all the foods we’ve mentioned above, it’s very unlikely that you’ll have issue with our new, improved broth if you already regularly enjoy cheese, mushrooms, tomatoes, steak, tofu or any other hearty meal, instant or not!

I’ve heard MSG is a neurotoxin/poison/other really bad stuff. MSG can cause brain lesions! ….in baby mice, when you inject it directly into their brain. MSG is a genotoxin! ...when white blood cells are marinated in pure MSG for an hour. Like we said above, the method in which any ingredient is introduced matters a whole lot! In general, Vite Kitchens takes a very strong stance against injecting foodstuffs into your brain. If there’s a sensationalist headline, look into the details!

Again, we highly recommend reading through the entire Examine article about this. It’s extremely informative and breaks down the science in an easy to understand way!

The bottom line is, MSG is almost undoubtedly safe for human consumption. It currently occupies the same level of safety that the FDA recommends for benign substances such as salt (generally recognized as safe). It’s an ingredient that’s been well researched and we stand behind the science, not fear mongering!

 

So why are we using MSG?

MSG is an extremely powerful tool to make our soup delicious and savory without compromising our nutrition goals. It just makes things taste so darn good! MSG works synergistically with our new recipe, so even if you added MSG to v1.0, the new v1.1 recipes are a completely different experience. It has to be tasted to be believed. It also allows us to significantly increase the flavor profiles present within the broths without increasing the sodium levels. Fun fact, MSG was originally marketed as a sodium reducer, since a teaspoon of MSG will make things taste way better than a teaspoon of salt!

It’s always a difficult road to navigate between market trends and sticking to your guns. When we first started making Vite Ramen, Nissin had just released their new Top Ramen formula: among other things, no MSG! The largest instant ramen manufacturer in the world making a drastic change to their recipe indicates a very clear market trend. If companies like Nissin are doing it, it’s in our best interest to try and increase sales by omitting MSG.

So, buoyed by fear of public opinion, we went into v1.0 with the same fear every other company had. What if Vite Ramen, everything we had poured our hearts and souls into, didn’t sell because we used MSG?

It was a decision motivated by fear, and it’s a decision we’re not proud of.

But hey, we all make mistakes. What’s important is that we learn and grow from them, and we refuse to let fear stop us this time.

The ingredients used in our soups, like the powdered mushrooms, pork, chicken, and so on are just ways of getting more savory taste in the form of glutamates; since we’re making a savory soup, glutamates have always been a core base of Vite Ramen (and your homemade ramen soup, your parmesan cheese, mushroom stew, etc)! The goal of making a savory soup is to make it savory, meaning to add glutamates through your ingredients! The savory nature of our broths (or any savory broth, really), means there’s already glutamates in there, and given that our goal is to make lower sodium but still extremely hearty broths, MSG is the best way forward!

We want Vite Ramen to taste the best it can be, and once we really peeled back the curtain, there was no reason not to use it except to chase a market trend. The molecular structure of MSG points to it being a safe ingredient, and studies have repeatedly confirmed that same conclusion. MSG allows us to make the soup tastier without compromising exceeding sodium or compromising nutrition. We want to make the nutritionally complete meal of our dreams, not just follow what might sell the best. So here we are, taking a stand for science, ingredients, and what we believe in.

Vite Kitchens stands against pseudoscience, and we believe in promoting well researched science, and like all science, we’re open to optimizing and changing based on solid new evidence. We’re making this so nobody needs to choose between nutritious, delicious and fast, and we’re all about doing it the best we can, not trying to make a quick buck!

 

So how did MSG get a bad rap?

Here we’ll delve a little into the history of MSG. The origin of MSG’s bad rap can be traced back to a single letter: a speculative letter to the New England Journal of Medicine by Dr. Ho Man Kwok. It’s popularly believed that this letter strongly implicates MSG as the primary cause of Kwok’s “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome”, but it’s worth going back to Dr. Ho Man Kwok’s original letter to see what was really written. While most reporting indicates that Kwok implicates MSG as the primary culprit, it’s not quite the full story. While Kwok describes symptoms associated with “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” (headache, tingling etc), he speculates that his symptoms may be caused from anything from the soy sauce used, cooking wine or MSG. What’s often left out, however, is the next, arguably more important part: Dr. Kwok goes on to suggest a cause-effect, and doesn’t implicate the glutamate at all! He instead speculates that it’s the sodium in the MSG, paired with the already high sodium of restaurant cooked foods, that causes him to feel that way:

“Another alternative is that the high sodium content of the Chinese food may produce temporary hypernatremia, which may consequently cause….numbness of the muscles, generalized weakness and palpitation. ...The syndrome may therefore be due to merely to the large quantity of salt in the food, and the high dissociation constant of the organic salt, monosodium glutamate, may make the symptoms more acute”.

* link to full letter for those interested

In short, Kwok speculates that the symptoms he feels is more likely due to how much salt is used in the restaurants. MSG only makes it worse because when processed by the body, it’s broken down into separate salt and glutamate, and the salt contributes to the symptoms of the already salty food (by the way, if you’ve read this far, take 10% off your order with code MSGISAWESOME; expires on 8.30.19)! However, this wasn’t the part that was picked up by the news of the time. Due to several factors, which may include the xenophobia of the time period (depending on your personal interpretation), the media firestorm implicating MSG slowly worked its way into the public consciousness. Backed by several questionable studies (again, please don’t inject stuff into your brain), and further buoyed by the natural food movement and fear of unknown “chemicals”, MSG slowly picked up headlines as being a bad ingredient.

The Final Verdict Due to the amount of concern surrounding the subject, MSG has been an extensively well studied ingredient. It’s not the boogeyman that everyone believes, and has incredible potential in keeping foods tasty while reducing their overall sodium impact.

In the end, we’re proud to be supporting evidence based food to make our ramen the best we possibly can. MSG is synergistic with many of the flavor notes we’re trying to achieve; it boosts not just umami but an incredible amount of other flavors as well! If you taste the difference between v1.0 and v1.1 side by side, I think you’ll be able to really see how big of a difference it makes in pairing with all the amazing new ingredients we’ve been able to source.

Hope this was enlightening! We’ve spent a lot of time writing and researching to both make an informed decision on using MSG, as well as presenting our research and getting it organized into this blog. Thank you so much for reading to the end!

--Tom

Further reading:

https://examine.com/nutrition/is-msg-bad-for-your-health/

https://www.sciencefriday.com/articles/is-msg-bad-for-your-health/

https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/how-msg-got-a-bad-rap-flawed-science-and-xenophobia/

https://www.buzzfeed.com/johnmahoney/the-notorious-msgs-unlikely-formula-for-success#.rr4lwoaeJ

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2005/jul/10/foodanddrink.features3

https://www.thisamericanlife.org/668/transcript

(I've got more sources and links but away from that computer for the moment...will update later! Feel free to shoot me an email in a couple days and remind me if you're aching for them!)

Tim Zheng