David Chang on MSG, Umami and Breast Milk

We’re David Chang fans around here — Alex Baldinger even found a way to get an opening weekend seating at Momofuku in Toronto. Though Chang cooks primarily in New York, I admire the Virginia native and Georgetown Prep graduate the same way I can’t help but root for pro athletes from my alma mater. So I was intrigued when video of Chang at this year’s MAD Symposium in Denmark popped up on Eater.

MAD is a series of talks by chefs and industry types on issues of food and food culture hosted by René Redzepi, world renowned (and Washington Post Magazine-profiled) chef at Copenhagen’s Noma. The subject of Chang’s lecture is “MSG and Umami,” in which he addresses the vilification of monosodium glutamate head-on. In the face of a lack any real evidence that MSG causes the various ailments Chang derisively calls “Chinese restaurant syndrome,” the chef suggests that its widespread defamation is nothing more than a cultural construct. While no real conclusion is reached, Chang implores his audience “to start questioning the things that we take for granted.”

Not that interested in the ins and outs of MSG? The video is still worth a watch for the discussion on what exactly the flavor property umami is, and why, as Lars Williams of the Nordic Food Lab puts it, “human breast milk has ten times the umami of cow’s milk.”

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