Calvin Eng, the proprietor of New York’s Bonnie’s restaurant, proudly embraces monosodium glutamate (MSG) in his Cantonese-American cuisine. Despite MSG’s past stigma, Eng believes it enhances the flavor of both Western and Cantonese dishes. Bonnie’s success has soared since its opening in late 2021, earning recognition as one of New York’s hottest dining destinations. Eng is part of a growing movement of chefs, including David Chang and Eddie Huang, aiming to destigmatize MSG and highlight its century-old use. MSG, derived from plant fermentation, adds a savory umami taste to food. It became widely popular worldwide after its invention in Japan and even gained attention from the US military post-World War II.

However, in 1968, negative perceptions arose after a doctor linked MSG to symptoms called “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.” Despite scientific trials proving otherwise, MSG sensitivity claims persist. Nevertheless, government organizations worldwide consider MSG safe for consumption and recognize its potential to reduce sodium intake. Ajinomoto, the leading producer of MSG, actively works to change attitudes by challenging misconceptions and educating the public. They successfully lobbied Merriam-Webster to revise the definition of “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” and hold symposiums on MSG and umami. Chefs like Eng openly discuss and include MSG on their menus, contributing to the gradual change in perception. Eng emphasizes that MSG is not a shortcut but rather a complement to traditional cooking methods at Bonnie’s. While health concerns exist, embracing MSG helps overcome its negative reputation. As attitudes shift, MSG’s history and production process are showcased at Ajinomoto’s visitors’ center, engaging the public in learning about umami.