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MSG makes a comeback with a new campaign against the ‘Chinese restaurant syndrome’

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MSG makes a comeback with a new campaign against the ‘Chinese restaurant syndrome’ | Thaiger
PHOTO: MSG got a bad rap for 50 years - bostonmagazine.com

MSG, or monosodium glutamate, a common seasoning in many foods from Doritos, to salad-dressing and Thai food, is making a come back. Not that it really went away. But there was 50 years or so when it suffered, unreasonably, a poor reputation.

For years it was branded an unhealthy processed ingredient despite a lack of supporting scientific evidence. It became the whipping boy of Chinese restaurants with people alleging they would suffer from symptoms like dizziness and palpitations after eating Chinese food seasoned with MSG. It even earned the nickname “Chinese restaurant syndrome”.

The Merriam-Webster even added “Chinese restaurant syndrome” to its dictionaries from 1993 after it became somewhat of an urban legend such that it became excepted that a lot of Chinese food contained MSG and that it was, somehow, bad for you. Despite hundreds of studies there has never been any repeatable experiments where it could be proven that monosodium glutamate was bad for consumer’s health or could repeat the alleged side-effects in control groups.

It all started when a biochemist wrote a letter to the New England Journal of Science in 1968 saying that Chinese restaurant food left him “lightheaded and with odd aches and pains”. The next issue of the journal published more purported side-effects.

That grew into a meme that Chinese food was dangerous for you and spread quickly, and even gained some early legitimacy by some medical professionals at the time. A 1969 scientific paper claimed that MSG was “the cause of the Chinese restaurant syndrome,” and said it caused “burning sensations, facial pressure, and chest pain.”

Subsequent scientific studies over the next half century have never been able to validate the 1969 paper’s claims or find any link between the white salt-like substance and any side effects. Studies suggest that any correlation on side effects from eating MSG were probably psychosomatic.

MSG was first introduced in 1908 by a Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda, who was able to isolate unique flavour of a popular broth made from a seaweed called kombu. Ikeda described the flavour as neither salty, sweet, sour or bitter. It was unique. The taste came from the glutamate in the seaweed and earned the new, “fifth taste” which would be called “umami”, neither salty, sweet, sour or bitter.

But MSG has been used as an active ingredient in many Asian foods, not the least Thai food where the white crystals are sprinkled liberally on favourite Thai dishes from the street stalls to the hi-so restaurants.

Now there’s a campaign, “Redefine CRS” headed by Japanese food and seasoning company Ajinomoto to reflect the current knowledge about MSG and the impact of misinformation on the public’s perception of Asian cuisine.

The whole Chinese Restaurant Syndrome was a western construct and never became a ‘thing’ in Asia. So Ajinomoto are calling out the half century of misinformation as “racist”. If MSG was actually dangerous or could conjour up it’s reputed side effects a long list of Asian countries and their populations would be walking around complaining about it.

“To this day, the myth around MSG is ingrained in America’s consciousness, with Asian food and culture still receiving unfair blame. Chinese Restaurant Syndrome isn’t just scientifically false, it’s xenophobic.”

In a video several Asian American figures, restaurateurs, and medical professionals spoke out against the misconceptions surrounding MSG and Chinese food. Famed restaurateur Eddie Huang, whose memoir was adapted into the hit sitcom “Fresh Off the Boat points out that MSG is not only delicious but found in hundreds of commonly used foods we use every day.

“Calling it Chinese restaurant syndrome is really ignorant.”

The campaign proposes a redefinition of “Chinese restaurant syndrome”… “an outdated term that falsely blamed Chinese food containing MSG, or monosodium glutamate, for a group of symptoms.”

Chances are, you’ve eaten it. You light be eating it right now as you snack and scroll through your phone. MSG is a common amino acid naturally found in foods like tomatoes and cheese, which people then figured out how to extract and ferment. This fermented glutamate salt is now used to flavour lots of different foods like stews or chicken stock and seasoning.

A joint study by the World Health Organisation and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation “failed to confirm a link between MSG and the ‘Chinese Restaurant Syndrome’. The syndrome itself was based on “anecdotal” evidence rather than any scientific fact.”

As the new campaign points out, the public scare over MSG unfairly placed the blame on Chinese food. That myth persists in many western countries where Chinese food as is sometimes considered processed, unclean, or unhealthy.

So, head down to your local Chinese restaurant and thoroughly enjoy your meal because it tastes great, along with all the other Asian cuisines you love. If you feel ‘icky, bloated and tingly’ after your meal it’s not the MSG, you probably just ate or drank too much.

As a side note, The Thaiger was involved in an experiment six years ago in Phuket when we had two control groups of three people. The six people were sat down and told we wanted to measure the effects of MSG in their food. All were given a standard Pad Thai Goong. One group was told the meal had been prepared with MSG, the other without MSG. In the interviews after, the group who ate the food prepared with MSG noted they had ‘tingling around their lips’, ‘feeling of flush cheeks’ and ‘racing heartbeat’.

The other group, who were told their meals were prepared without MSG, had no complaints.

Then everyone was told that, in fact, the meals had been switched, so that the group who thought they had consumed MSG had eaten a Pad Thai Going without any MSG.

Hardly a scientifically-validated study but an indication how we can be easily convinced to believe anything.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    Alfred F. Smith

    Tuesday, December 29, 2020 at 11:46 pm

    As with many things, some individuals may have a sensitivity to MSG. Especially people of non asian race. I am caucasian. It wasnt until I married my Thai wife that I realized MSG makes me feel very sore and achy. All my life I had days when I would feel great and days when I would feel tired and sore. It seemed unrelated to what I was eating. I couldnt figure out why until I ate my Thai wifes delicious food. It was super delicious but within hours I would feel awful. We finally figured out it was the MSG in her sauces and the white powder she added.. I realized MSG is in many many processed foods that I liked.
    Now I try to avoid these foods whenever possible. Whenever my wife cooks for me she leaves out the MSG. I feel so so much better now. One can only wonder how many other people go through their entire lives feeling tired and achy because they dont know that they are alergic to MSG.

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Expats

Thailand looks at proposal to make it easier for expats and long-termers

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Thailand looks at proposal to make it easier for expats and long-termers | Thaiger

Thailand is looking to make it easier for expats and long-term visa holders to stay in the country. The Immigration Bureau is hoping to boost investments and the economy once the pandemic is over. The proposed changes could do away with 90 day reporting requirements which have been well-received by expats.

Recently, the online website to report 90 day check-ins has been down, citing maintenance issues. Hotel staff have also been dealing with the TM-30 reporting system being down. Chayotid Kridakorn, a former head of JP Morgan Securities Thailand, told the Bangkok Post that immigration hoops are a key pain point for foreigners working in Thailand.

“We want to make it easier for foreigners to live and work in Thailand.”

Meanwhile, plans to help Thailand recover economically have been detailed in a framework to be proposed to the government’s economic panel in the next month. Improvements to immigration regulations, work permits for foreign experts, and visa applications are on the framework list. Relaxing location reporting requirements for foreign workers which is done through the 90 day reporting, is also slated to be amended.

The framework also will include inducements for foreign investors such as corporate income-tax cuts, relaxed property-holding rules and incentives for retirees and start-up companies. An adviser to Thailand’s Deputy PM, says he aims to bring in 1 million retirees or pensioners over the next few years. He says expats could collectively contribute as much as 1.2 trillion baht to the economy each year. But Thailand’s gross domestic product growth won’t return to pre-Covid levels until the 3rd quarter of 2022, according to the Bank of Thailand.

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Expats

Proposals to get rid of 90 day reporting and ease investment rules in Thailand

Tim Newton

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Proposals to get rid of 90 day reporting and ease investment rules in Thailand | Thaiger

In amongst a sea of bad new over the past week, a glimmer of hope for expats and long-stay travellers. You better sit down…

The Thai government are looking into changing the long standing 90 day reporting for people staying in Thailand longer than 90 days on a long-stay visa. But don’t get out the champagne just yet.

For the last few decades any foreigner staying in Thailand for more than 90 days had to report to Thai Immigration about their current whereabouts. Immigration officials added an online alternative a few years ago but its reliability has been patchy.

As far as The Thaiger can tell, the online reporting has been down for at least 3 months. (Comment below if you’ve had a different experience)

The Bangkok Post reports that the changes form part of a strategy “to boost investment and tourism revenue”.

For hotels that have had to report the arrival and location of any foreign arrivals, the equally unpopular TM30 form, the online posting of this information has also been equally patchy over the last few months (many hotels simply don’t bother – it’s up to YOU to insist they check you in with the Immigration system).

Though there has been no official announcement made at this stage, the desperation for visitors and tourist, that used to fuel up to 20% of Thailand’s annual GDP, is forcing all departments to look at relaxing earlier draconian or outdated paperwork in favour of encouraging more arrivals, during the Covid-era or or after.

Immigration officials have often cited the need to track transnational crime as the reason to maintain its strict, and often inconvenient, rules – 90 day reporting, TM30s and TM 28s.

But none of this has reached beyond proposal stage at the moment but, according to the head of a government taskforce investigating the proposals at the moment, there will never be a better time to bring Thailand’s immigration and investment rules into the 21st century.

Chayotid Kridakorn, a former head of JP Morgan Securities, in now leading a Thai government economic panel to recommend changes that will make it easier for investors and travellers to enter into, and stay, in Thailand, according to Bangkok Post.

Even on their most optimistic guesses, the Bank of Thailand says GDP is unlikely to return to pre-Civd levels until Q3, this year. Many pundits would say this is optimistic, indeed.

Other groups to fall between the immigration cracks, up to now, have included the digital nomads – people who want to work remotely, anywhere, anytime. Their creed is ‘have laptop and wifi – can work’. Most digital nomads have used various visas, and border hops, to keep living and working in Thailand. Under current rules, their work has been, strictly, illegal and a specific visa wold allow the Thai government to better control this huge resource and tax them more effectively.

Mr Chayotid says that Thailand doesn’t “want to be left behind and die with old technology”.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Privatising Covid vaccines – Thai government gives private hospitals the go-ahead to buy vaccines

Tim Newton

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Privatising Covid vaccines – Thai government gives private hospitals the go-ahead to buy vaccines | Thaiger

“About 10,000 people are being vaccinated around Thailand, on average, with 14,000 people being vaccinated each day in Phuket.”

Private hospitals and institutions have been given the official go-ahead to purchase up to 10 million doses of approved Covid-19 vaccines. The purchases will be in addition to what the Thai government is also doing. The major sticking point, despite the approval, however, continues to be the world supply shortage of vaccines, with demand far outstripping current supply.

The CCSA’s Dr. Taweesilp Visanuyothin announced that the Thai PM had approved the privatisation of vaccines but maintained that the roll out of free vaccines for Thais and people at risk would continue at full pace. The Thai government have been fending off accusations that it was blocking the acquisition of vaccines by private companies and hospitals. The 10 million doses approved for private purchases actually allows about 5 million vaccinated people with most of the approved vaccines needing 2 doses.

The spokesperson explained that the Thai government needs to have 40 million Thais vaccinated before they would be able to claim any scientific level of herd immunity. The public health minister said that around 10,000 people per day are being vaccinated around the country, on average. About 350,000 doses have arrived in Thailand and 1.5 million more doses are awaiting delivery for this month, according to the Thai PM.

The order allows the private sector to use a letter of approval from the Thai government to purchase its own supplies separately. Or, alternatively, to purchase directly from the government and resell to customers.

The government’s current order for vaccines is enough for around 35 million people with a local supplier, manufacturing the Oxford/Astrazeneca vaccine under license, from June this year.

Dr Taweesilp also urged private companies to target and purchase vaccines from manufacturers other than the vaccine companies the Thai government were already dealing with.

The following vaccines are currently approved in Thailand…

  • AZD1222 by AstraZeneca/Oxford University (2 doses)
  • ARS-CoV-2 (CoronaVac) by Sinovac (2 doses)
  • NT162b2/CORMIRNATY – Tozinameran by Pfizer/BioNTech (2 doses)
  • Covishield (ChAdOx1_nCoV19) by the Serum Institute of India (2 doses)
  • Ad26.COV2.S by the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson (Single dose)
  • mRNA-1273 by Moderna (2 doses)

There are also current applications pending from other vaccine producers which will likely be approved in coming weeks.

Many expats have been chasing information about when they could expect to be vaccinated. Despite some promises from the government there has been little concrete information about formalities to register for vaccination at this stage. Meanwhile many expats have indicated they were prepared to pay for their vaccination but were unable to get clarification from private hospitals about when that may be available.

In Phuket the provincial government has promised ALL registered residents, local or foreign, that they would be eligible for government-funded vaccination. There has been a flurry of activity on the island over the past 2 weeks since the ‘Sandbox’ proposal was approved, in principal, for a July re-opening of quarantine-free tourism to vaccinated travellers. There has been queues and waiting lists at the island’s public hospitals every day for the past week. Currently some 14,000 people are being vaccinated every day, on average.

Meanwhile, the events of the past few days – the closure of entertainment venues and bars in 41 provinces, including all the main tourist areas – will force the government to re-consider any scheduled plans to re-open borders and reduction of quarantine times. Travellers are still allowed to visit Thailand, under new guidelines introduced on April 1, 2021.

What you currently need to enter Thailand…

  • Vaccine certificate, either a print out or the original document (or vaccinated travellers)
  • Certificate of Entry issued by the Royal Thai Embassy in your country
  • Covid-19 health insurance with a minimum coverage of US$100,000
  • Booking confirmation for an Alternative State Quarantine (ASQ) hotel
  • Negative Covid-19 test issued no more than 72 hours before departure

Anyone considering travelling to Thailand at this time is recommended to check with the Thai embassy in their country first, before making bookings of ASQ hotels or flights.

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