Podcast Episode 112: MSG & Umami: Heritage, Health & Headaches? – Mary Lee Chin

Feb 19, 2019

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Disclosure: I want to thank Ajinomoto for inviting me to the World Umami Forum and for their support and sponsorship of this podcast series. Please note that guest views do not necessarily reflect those of Ajinomoto.

This is a 3-part series on Umami & MSG – or monosodium glutamate. In this series, I’m speaking with four different experts to explore the largely untold history, research on the safety, culinary applications – and even some potential health benefits and current research approaches. What you learn may surprise you!

MSG is one of the most beloved and vilified ingredients in American history.

It’s a staple for home cooks and world-renowned chefs, yet it’s a subject of skepticism as brands and restaurants promote “MSG-free” foods and dishes.

Last September, I was invited to attend the World Umami Forum in New York City, an event hosted by Ajinomoto, the world’s first and leading manufacturer of MSG. What I learned was so compelling that I decided to do a series of episodes so that I could interview several of the speakers and experts that I met at the conference and bring their knowledge to you. You’ll hear from a food historian and author, a registered dietitian, a research and food industry scientist, and also a chef.

Mary Lee Chin, registered dietitian and daughter of Chinese immigrants

The second episode in this 3-part series features Mary Lee Chin, a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in science. She shares insight into MSG’s connection to Asian heritage and health topics – including the question of headaches.

The first episode featured Sarah Lohman, a culinary historian and author of ‘Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine.’ She shared how and why history has influenced our perceptions of MSG.

The term “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” originated from a letter (not a scientific article) published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1968 suggesting that Chinese restaurant food, and perhaps MSG, may be the cause of various physical and cognitive symptoms. Today, the term persists despite well-documented research on the safety of MSG.”
—Mary Lee Chin

MSG & Umami – The Basics:

  1. MSG or monosodium glutamate is a seasoning that combines sodium with glutamate, an amino acid that is naturally present in certain foods.
  2. MSG is the purest form of Umami, which is 1 of the 5 tastes in addition to sweet, salty, sour, and bitter, and brings out the savory flavor in foods.
  3. Studies have shown that MSG can reduce overall sodium content in a recipe by 30-40% by reducing the need for salt. In fact, the Institute of Medicine has referenced the potential of MSG as a tool to reduce sodium in foods.
  4. MSG is sold under the brand name Ac’cent in the United States, as well as AJI-NO-MOTO™, and can be purchased in the spice aisle of most major supermarkets, Asian grocery stores and online.

MSG Helps Boost Flavors and Lower Sodium

Get the Factsheet: MSG Helps to Boost Flavor and Lower Sodium

Guest bio:

Mary Lee Chin, Episode 112Mary Lee Chin MS, RD, has been a dietitian for over 40 years and speaks on some of the most provocative and controversial food topics of today, including genetically modified foods, environmental and Ag sustainability issues, and MSG. Through her company, Nutrition Edge Communications, she advocates moving from polarizing rhetoric to open and professional courteous discourse. Mary formerly held a six-year term as a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.


My mom was acknowledged as the finest cook in the family. Born in China, she learned the traditional techniques of Chinese village cooking. She and my dad had an arranged marriage when she was 16 and he was 20. Dad then returned to the United States after the birth of my older brother in China. World War II, the occupation of my mother’s village by the Japanese, and my dad’s service in the U.S. Army including fighting in the Battle of the Bulge led to a 14-year separation. My parents operated a Chinese hand laundry and money was tight. However, when we had time to celebrate, this was one of our favorite dishes. I share this family favorite recipe in honor of my parents and all the sacrifices they made to provide a better life for their family in this country. This is one of mom’s many recipes I have collected to share with her three children, 10 grandchildren, their assorted spouses and 17 great-grandchildren.”
—Mary Lee Chin


Beef, Tomato and Green Pepper Stir-Fry

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Chinese
Servings: 2
Author: Mary Lee Chin


  • 1 pound round steak trimmed, cut into 1½" by 3/4" strips
  • 1 Tbsp sherry or Shaoxing rice wine
  • 1 Tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp plus 1tsp soy sauce divided
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil divided
  • 1 clove garlic crushed
  • 2 tsp salted black beans rinsed and drained (optional)
  • 1 onion cut into 8-10 wedges and separated
  • 1 green pepper cut into ½" strips
  • 2 tomatoes cut into 8 wedges each
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 2 tsp cornstarch mixed with 3 Tbsp water
  • 1/2 tsp MSG


  • Marinate meat with sherry, oyster sauce, sugar and 1 Tbsp soy sauce. Cover bowl and marinate 10 minutes to overnight in refrigerator.
  • Heat 1 Tbsp oil over high heat in wok or heavy skillet. Add crushed garlic, cook briefly until lightly browned. Discard garlic. Add onion and salted black beans and stir-fry one minute. Add green pepper and celery. Stir-fry 2 minutes until crisp-tender. Set aside in bowl.
  • Add cooked vegetables to wok over high heat. Add all meat to wok and toss to combine. Add cornstarch mixture, and toss to coat meat and vegetables. Cook until mixture thickens and vegetables look glossy, about one minute. Add tomatoes, 1 tsp soy sauce and ½ tsp MSG, toss quickly, about one minute until heated through. Serve with white rice.


Mary Lee Chin on Twitter

About MSG & Umami: whyusemsg.com

MSG & Umami Resources: Patient Education | MSG Safety | Recipes | Scientific Citations


Chinese Restaurant Syndrome? MSG Info


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Today’s Dietitian Spring Symposium 2019

Sound Bites is collaborating with Today’s Dietitian! Stay tuned for updates on the podcast, blog, and newsletter!

Save the Date! Today’s Dietitian Spring Symposium 2019 is in Scottsdale, Arizona May 19-22!

Music by Dave Birk

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