From Popeyes to Chick-fil-A, everybody's doing it.

By Jelisa Castrodale
Updated January 17, 2020
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In late August, just about the time that everyone was losing their minds over the Popeyes chicken sandwich, McDonald's owners weren't panicking exactly, but...well, yeah, they were panicking.

"Unfortunately, we’re still not in the game. That is going to change," the National Owners Association, an organization that represents McDonald’s franchisees, wrote to its members in a letter the previous month. "JFK called for a man on the moon. Our call should be a category leading chicken sandwich."

Credit: McDonald's

More than eight years elapsed between the time that President John F. Kennedy addressed Congress to outline his ambitious space exploration program and that unforgettable day when Apollo 11 touched down on the surface of the moon. McDonald's breaded, pickle-topped moonshot is on a slightly more accelerated schedule, and it's already being tested in 230 restaurants in Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

The Crispy Chicken Sandwich and the Deluxe Crispy Chicken Sandwich will look familiar to anyone who's also a regular at Popeyes or Chick-fil-A; according to CBS News, it's topped with a dill pickle chip, comes on a buttered potato roll, and is served in a foil bag. It also has an equally familiar-sounding ingredient: monosodium glutamate, or MSG.

McDonald's doesn't currently use MSG in the other items that compose its regular, nationally available menu—but both Chick-fil-A and Popeyes list it as an ingredient in their own chicken sandwiches and chicken filets.

"We use real, quality ingredients to elevate the taste of our food so our customers all over the world can enjoy,” Cindy Goody, McDonald’s chief nutritionist, said in a statement. “We’re passionate about our food and take great care to offer delicious, quality menu options to our customers that are produced and sourced in a responsible way.”

Although your grandmother might still express concern about MSG—as did a lot of people in the 1980s—the widely used flavor-enhancer is generally recognized as safe by the FDA. It's just a combination of salt (the monosodium part) and an amino acid that is naturally present in everything from tomatoes to breast milk (glutamic acid).

"The glutamate in MSG is chemically indistinguishable from glutamate present in food proteins," the FDA writes on its website. "Our bodies ultimately metabolize both sources of glutamate in the same way. An average adult consumes approximately 13 grams of glutamate each day from the protein in food, while intake of added MSG is estimates [sic] at around 0.55 grams per day."

So yes, McDonald's has added one more ingredient to its Crispy Chicken Sandwich, but that's not newsworthy because of the MSG itself, it's newsworthy because it just shows that the fast food giant is taking one more step to compete with (or to straight-up copy) two of its biggest challengers in the chicken sandwich game.

Not every astronaut gets to walk on the moon, McDonald's. That's okay, too.