MSG Report: Wanna getta pizza?

29 May

This came up at Valentine’s Day weekend, during my mini-break at a hotel near the Mall of America (my “here, have some couple time” V-Day gift to HF and HM). I was lazy and decided to have pizza delivered. Both the huge chains had stores nearby, so decisions, decisions. Their allergen charts eventually broke the stalemate.

Domino’s

To the best of my recollection, I’ve never been glutamated by Domino’s, including by their recently updated recipe. But while perusing their website, I discovered the first allergen chart I’d ever seen. Sadly, while it is thorough, it does not cover MSG. I was still intending to order from them, until I went to check their competition…

Allergen Chart: Nice, but no MSG listed. Available here.

Pizza Hut

Pizza Hut won my business that day, for a few reasons. Firstly, they had a deal going where you could get any pizza for $10! (Still in effect as of this writing.) Secondly, their allergen chart is titled the “Allergen & Sensitivities Guide” – and there’s MSG, front and center! (Okay, over on the far right. Picky, picky.) So they pretty much got my money just on the principle that they thought to include MSG in their disclosure.

I was, however, crushed to learn that all Wing Street wings have MSG. I was really in the mood for wings!

Meal: Pizza (thin crust, I think): half-Hawaiian, half-Veggie Lovers.

Allergen Chart: Impressive. Most impressive. Available here.

While we’re at it, let’s take a look at a couple other vendors…

Round Table Pizza

With a location down the hill from us in California, HF and I ate RTP on several occasions and I can’t recall getting sick, but don’t use my memory as guide…

Allergen Chart: Wow! Much more comprehensive than any other I’ve seen, and shows no MSG in ANY menu item. Available here.

Papa John’s

One of my former employers used to always order PJ’s for office pizza parties, but I’ve never been all that impressed by them, honestly.

Allergen Chart: Rather than a chart, they address allergen concerns on an FAQ page, where they have this to say about MSG: “Q: Do any of your ingredients contain MSG? A: Papa John’s does not add monosodium glutamate (MSG) to any of our pizza toppings. However, there is MSG in our Ranch and Blue Cheese Dipping Sauces.”

Be very cautious with phrasing like “we do not add MSG”/”no MSG added” – it doesn’t guarantee an absence of MSG. Rather, hear/read it as “we didn’t put MSG in it, but the ingredients we use might contain MSG.” In my experience, these are generally people who don’t want to take responsibility for checking each and every ingredient. My mother once had a server at another restaurant tell her that the menu item in question “contained no MSG but for what is naturally occurring.” Um, no. If MSG occurs naturally in anything, I’m the Queen of Mars.

Little Caesars

It’s been so long since I had LC, let’s just skip right to it:

Allergen Chart: None readily available on the site. Proceed with caution.

I think those are all the national chains, yeah? (If I missed any of the big guys, please let me know.) I originally wasn’t going to cover any small, local stores because they: a) are local, and b) are unlikely to post nutritional info, let alone allergens. However, given the experience I had yesterday, I will mention the place the Housemates and I frequent.

Jakeeno’s, Minneapolis, MN

Meal: Baby Greens Salad, Antipasto Salad. Eaten with dressing we had at home that is all-natural, no MSG.

Allergen Chart: None (as predicted). Proceed with caution.

Thursday night, I stopped by Jakeeno’s for a couple of salads to cover dinner that night and lunch on Friday; both meals, I ate a combination of the two salads. Friday morning, I had a mild reaction; just enough to make me stop and review what I’d eaten over the past day. I didn’t immediately think of the salads – because they’re salads! – but when I had a second, worse reaction after lunch (during which I’d eaten more of the Antipasto than I had the previous night) and a third later that day, I mentally reviewed the exact ingredients.

The Baby Greens contains just greens, asiago cheese crumbles, and walnuts. The Antipasto Salad has two red-flag ingredients: pepperoni and croutons. I really can’t think of anything else I’d eaten over the previous day that would cause a reaction; especially given the timing of the attacks. So after work, I stopped by the restaurant and asked the woman at the counter about MSG. She did go into the back to check labels for me, but I’m not convinced by what I was told. (NB. I am paraphrasing, as I can’t remember exactly what she said.)

Pepperoni, Take 1: “It’s just the usual: pork, salt…” Take 2 (after label checking): “No, it doesn’t have it.” … I did ask if I could see the label, but it wasn’t presented. Packaged meat/sausage can be a danger, so I’d be more convinced if I’d seen it with my own eyes.

Croutons, Take 1: “It’s bread, butter, garlic, and a spice blend, but that’s a secret.” Take 2: “It didn’t have a label, but they come with just butter and garlic, then we add the spices. But we don’t add MSG to that.” … Okay, you don’t add MSG, but do any of the ingredients in your “secret” spice blend contain MSG – are you sure? What about the butter used to flavor the croutons before you get them? (Pre-flavored packaged food? Flag!)

A mini-rant on “secret recipes”: Look, people, we’re not talking culinary espionage here. We’re talking about a person’s health and well-being – not to mention a customer’s happiness. If someone comes to you with a genuine concern: “I got sick, and I’m trying to determine the cause”, put aside your secrets and be helpful. It will get you much more business than your “special”…whatever.

Caveat: Under the circumstances, I have no proof that the food from Jakeeno’s was responsible for my troubles, but the croutons, if not the pepperoni, seem like the most likely suspect. And don’t get me wrong!! The salads were lovely; definitely something I’ll order again, sans those two questionable ingredients. Do try their veggie pizza if you get the opportunity; I can’t recall getting sick from that, but I’ll let you know next time I have it.

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One Response to “MSG Report: Wanna getta pizza?”

  1. Emily A. 15 November 2011 at 17:23 #

    I ate Papa Johns and got a really bad headache. I am pretty sure I am MSG intolerant, so the fact that restaurants like Papa Johns and Panda Express don’t make that information available pisses me off. I applaud Pizza Hut. I use their allergen/sensitivity chart regularly, and it allows me to order fast food that doesn’t ruin my day and give me a splitting headache. I wish more companies would follow their example.

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