Once again a famous article on how bad is Nutella was shared to me. Thankfully, from Skeptics we can disminish the main argument of the claim which rely on the fact that MSG is bad (but as shown here, we have no scientific evidence supporting it).

What suprised me in this article is that bold claim:

And, thanks to technology, you can make it cheaply from petroleum and in a lab

So my question is, can MSG be made from petroleum?

(I would appreciate a precision about if it is done by the food industry)

  • 2
    I went to edit this question to be less distracted about opinions on Nutella, and more focussed on the claim, but when I looked at the article, the claim isn't about MSG, it is about Vanillin: "The grandest chemical of all of these is vanillin. Sure, vanilla has plenty of other odor molecules, but vanillin is about 95% of the scent. And, thanks to technology, you can make it cheaply from petroleum and in a lab." – Oddthinking Mar 23 '16 at 13:53
  • Even if you could, you wouldn't. MSG is so common in living things that deriving it from petroleum would be a waste of time and terribly uneconomical. – matt_black Mar 23 '16 at 16:20
  • A sufficiently ingenious chemist can almost certainly figure a way to make anything from anything that has the requisite atoms, though frequently the process won't be economically practical. But what earthly difference would it make? Monosodium glutamate (which is what I assume is meant by MSG) or vanillin are chemicals. They are exactly the same (if purified) regardless of their source. – jamesqf Mar 23 '16 at 17:32
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    With sufficient cleverness, time, and effort, you can synthesize almost anything organic from petroleum: crack it to produce methane, assemble the carbon backbone from the methane, and decorate it with the appropriate functional groups. Most organic synthesis begins from easier or cheaper starting points, though. – Mark Mar 24 '16 at 0:04


Per Wikipedia MSG is produced today by bacterial fermentation. At one point it was made synthetically from acrylonitrile, which itself is produced from propylene, which in turn is generated through natural fermentation.

I did find this paper which referenced a couple of Japanese books from the 1970s where the MSG from petroleum claim was made. It appears to me that these books were more of a reactionary diatribe against the packaged foods industry in general, which undermines the credibility of the author and his claims.

In two books, Diagnosing Ajinomoto (Ajinomoto o shindan suru) and The Japanese and Ajinomoto (Nihonjin to Ajinomoto), he [Gunji Atsutaka] recounted the most alarming portions of American medical reports, accused the company of concealing toxic impurities, and claimed msg was being made from petroleum. These accusations, however, were merely the preamble to a larger polemic against mass-produced convenience foods in general, which Gunji deplored precisely for their convenience. As he put it in the preface to his second book: “The frightening thing about processed foods made by large corporations, in addition to the toxicity of the large quantities of food additives used, is that they cause the spiritual ruin of Japanese women.” Unlike the rest of humanity and unlike other animals, Gunji asserted, Japanese and Americans happily ate food prepared by others, “as if they were prisoners.” Japanese women had an obligation to master the food resources of nature and to cultivate the skills to make food delicious without the assistance of ready-made ingredients. “[As long as] housewives continue to make meals every day,” he wrote, “praying in their hearts that their families will always be healthy, therein lies spiritual progress, ensuring a bright and peaceful life.” This, he explained, was why he had written books urging readers not to eat Ajinomoto products.41 In effect, Gunji’s critique took the very promise of rationality and convenience that Ajinomoto had been making to Japanese housewives since 1909 and turned it against both the company and the housewives themselves.

  • "propylene, which in turn is generated through natural fermentation" Do you have a reference for that claim? Wikipedia suggests otherwise: "[Propylene] is produced from fossil fuels" – Oddthinking Mar 23 '16 at 13:50
  • But it would be ok for Japanese men (and children!) to eat food prepared by others - that is, by Japanese women? – jamesqf Mar 23 '16 at 20:44

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