McDonald's is testing this controversial ingredient in its chicken sandwiches

2019 may go down in food history as the year that the great Chicken Sandwich Wars really kicked off as Popeye's introduced a sandwich meant to rival Chick-fil-A's perennial favorite. As we all know, this sandwich quickly went viral, and the nation was swept with chicken sandwich mania. Poor old McDonald's, seeing its sales slipping, scrambled to come up with its own chicken sandwich that would be everything the McChicken wasn't. The Spicy BBQ Chicken Sandwich, test-marketed last September, pretty much sank without a trace, but the more recently-launched Crispy Chicken Sandwich, currently having a trial run in Houston and Knoxville, is a different story. 

So what makes McDonald's new chicken sandwich more popular than its predecessors? Bloomberg Business reports this might be due to a certain controversial ingredient: monosodium glutamate (MSG).

What's the deal with MSG?

MSG is a flavor-enhancer that has been around for 100 years or so, but has had somewhat of a mixed reputation since the 1970s (via Healthline). While the FDA considers it to be pretty safe, there are numerous anecdotal accounts of people suffering from headaches, numbness, heart palpitations, depression, hyperactivity, gastrointestinal distress... in short, everything but demonic possession. 

While McDonald's nationwide menu does not include any items with MSG, the Crispy Chicken Sandwich isn't the only MSG-enhanced item currently being tested: In Hawaii, they're introducing a Portuguese sausage and a soup base that also contain this ingredient.

McDonald's isn't the first chain to use MSG in their chicken sandwich

Isn't McDonald's afraid of courting bad publicity for introducing this somewhat disreputable ingredient? It seems they've decided that taste trumps public opinion, at least in this instance, since MSG is one powerful umami-enhancer. What's more, by adding MSG to their sandwiches, they're in good company: Popeyes' incredibly popular chicken sandwich contains MSG, and so, according to Today, does Chick-fil-A's. Obviously the inclusion of this ingredient hasn't harmed their sales any, so McDonald's most likely feels there's little risk in adding it to their sandwich.

Looking forward to trying McDonald's new Crispy Chicken Sandwich once it goes nationwide? Nutrition expert Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN told Today that MSG shouldn't be a problem if you're not overly sensitive to sodium in any form. If you know you've got a problem with the additive, you may want to stick to MSG-free McNuggets, but if this new sandwich is as good as McDonald's is hoping it'll be, you may be in more danger of getting caught up in the madness that ensues whenever any fast food item gets crazy popular.