Dumplings. Chow mein. Kung pao chicken. Spring rolls. I love it all. Chinese food is my favorite type of food, and when I’m really on a Chinese food kick, I feel like I can devour it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. My craving for orange chicken is sometimes so strong, it makes me wonder if there is a reason for my insatiable appetite. So, I looked into it, and it turns out there are three ingredients common in Chinese food that are thought to explain those super serious cravings.
Maybe It’s the MSG
People often associate MSG with addiction. The food additive has been linked to migraines, rashes, and addiction. The US Food and Drug Administration has three times — in 1958, 1991 and 1998 —deemed MSG safe to consume. Further, MSG is included in countless processed foods but often listed under another name (monopotassium glutamate, glutavene, glutacyl, glutamic acid, autolyzed yeast extract, calcium caseinate, sodium caseinate, E620-625, Ajinomoto, Ac’cent, and Gourmet Powder). MSG certainty has a harmful reputation, but there is little evidence supporting this fear. So, if MSG is not to blame, then what is?
Surely It’s the Sugar
Perhaps the real secret to Chinese food’s delectable dishes is something far more common and obvious — sugar. Chinese food is known for its scrumptious sauces. Orange chicken’s tangy taste paired with a spring roll dipped in sweet and sour will quickly make me salivate, and these tasty sauces are laced with added sugar. Sugar is addictive, triggering our dopamine system in a way comparable to narcotics. Interestingly, if someone is prone to eating sugar when they are excited or depressed, their dopamine system may have a hyperactive response, making cravings even more intense.
Don’t Forget About Fried
Like sugar, fried fatty foods trigger the same dopamine response as narcotics. According to Paul J. Kenny, PH.D., an associate professor of molecular therapeutics as the Scripps Research Institute, people who regularly consume foods that are high in fat or sugar will eventually need to consume more fat or sugar to experience the same high.
I am happy to know sugar and fat are likely the parties responsible for my Chinese food cravings, rather than MSG. Breaking food misconceptions allows us to eat healthier. However, I still will enjoy Chinese in moderation (it’s one of my favorite foods, after all). If you’re looking for a similar taste that is also healthy, consider steaming vegetables with a little soy sauce!
What’s your favorite dish to order at a Chinese restaurant? —Alex