McDonald’s has signaled that it’s serious about competing in the chicken sandwich wars. It’s added monosodium glutamate (MSG) to chicken sandwiches at more than 230 of its outlets in Texas and Tennessee, where it is test marketing the new product.
MSG was once widely used in Chinese restaurants to enhance flavor, but it fell out of favor after a since-discredited study linked it to wide-ranging health issues. If you think McDonald’s is taking a risk by adding it to its chicken sandwich, consider this: both Popeye’s and Chick-Fil-A add the ingredient to theirs.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given MSG a “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) designation. The FDA has discounted the popular misconception that MSG can cause headaches and other feelings of discomfort after blind studies failed to find evidence of that reaction.
A McDonald’s spokesperson told CBS News that customers who have tried the chicken sandwich have had no complaints.
"So far, our customers in Houston and Knoxville have had a positive response to the test of our Crispy Chicken Sandwich and Deluxe Crispy Chicken sandwich,” the spokesperson said. “Feedback and insights from the test will inform our decisions moving forward."
Cindy Goody, McDonald's chief nutritionist, said customers can always find information about ingredients and nutritional value to help them make “informed food choices when they order from the McDonald's menu."
Keeping up with Popeye’s
McDonald’s has been under pressure from franchisees to counter the popularity of the crispy chicken sandwiches offered at rival Popeye’s and Chick-Fil-A. Over the summer and fall, Popeye’s new sandwich was wildly popular and caused a social media sensation.
The competition to sell fried chicken sandwiches may suggest a reversal in a recent trend toward more healthy food choices. Kentucky Fried Chicken reportedly changed its name to KFC, in part, to de-couple from the word “fried.”
Chick-Fil-A, Popeye’s, and now McDonald’s seem to be embracing it. According to FastFoodNutrition.org, Popeye’s chicken sandwich contains 699 calories, with 55 percent of them from fat.