Q: What is MSG and is it bad for you? (Asked by Kinlea Church, of Grantsville, WVa.)

A: MSG is the acronym for monosodium glutamate, which is used as a flavor enhancer in foods. It is found naturally in seaweed, which was used for centuries by Japanese cooks to make food taste better. The flavor-enhancing chemical MSG was chemically isolated and is now produced commercially. On its own, MSG doesn’t have much taste, but its effects are noticeable when added to soups, stews and other foods.

MSG got a bad rap in the late 1960s and ‘70s when it was blamed for adverse health reactions, including headaches, chest pains and so on. Being used predominantly in Chinese cooking, it became known as the “Chinese restaurant syndrome.” Signs went up in restaurants, saying “No MSG Added.”

However, no credible study has established any harmful health effects caused by MSG. This includes studies conducted by the Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization.

But in the United States, to please the wary public, the FDA requires any food product containing MSG to have it included in the ingredients list. Some manufacturers go a step further with prominent “No MSG Added” labels. However, the absence of MSG in the ingredients list does not mean the product does not have any MSG in it. Many foods contain MSG naturally, including milk, eggs, potatoes and tomatoes.

The bad rap for MSG seems to have faded from the point where it was totally avoided. If you want to try some, a popular brand of MSG is Accent. You are probably getting some already. Read a few food ingredients lists, starting with soups and moving on to potato chips.

C.P.S. (Curious Postscript): “Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” — Mark Twain

Curious about something? Send your questions to Dr. Jerry D. Wilson, College of Science and Mathematics, Lander University, Greenwood, SC 29649, or e-mail jerry@curiosity-corner.net. Selected questions will appear in the Curiosity Corner. For Curiosity Corner background, go to curiosity-corner.net.