The pleasant, savory taste and flavor that we all love to get by adding seasoning cubes to our food is as a result of an additive called MONOSODIUM GLUTAMATE popularly known as MSG. Have you ever cooked without seasoning cubes or powder? Do you wonder how your food will taste without “maggi” or another brand of seasoning cube? In fact, many people (including yours truly) so love that savoury taste of foods with seasoning cubes added. Most seasoning cubes contain salt, sugar, extracts of poultry, beef, seafoods, vegetables, natural spices and of course, monosodium glutamate (MSG).

Monosodium glutamate is a white crystalline powder that looks like sugar, but with slightly longer granules. It is a food additive used as flavour enhancer, commonly added to chinese food, soups, processed meats, restaurant foods, pre-packaged foods, seasoning cubes and powders, etc. Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is derived from glutamic acid, an amino acid which occurs naturally in foods like mushrooms, cheese, fermented soybean products such as soy sauce, tomatoes, seaweed, fish and breast milk. This amino acid (glutamic acid) belongs to a group of compounds called glutamates, which are responsible for the umami taste (umami is the fifth taste recognized in addition to sweet, salty, sour and bitter). Simply put, MSG is the synthesized version of glutamate.

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MSG has been classified by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as “GRAS” which means generally recognized as safe, though it’s use still remains controversial. However, it is not safe for everyone. This is because some people are allergic to large quantities of it, while some are fully allergic to it. This sensitivity or allergy is known as Chinese restaurant syndrome or MSG symptom complex. Reported symptoms of sensitivity to MSG include headache, weakness, nausea, sweating, chest pain, rapid heartbeats, etc. MSG has also been linked with obesity, metabolic disorders, neurotoxic effects and detrimental effects on the reproductive organs. These claims are still under scrutiny as research is still ongoing, regarding the safety of the additive.

Despite the controversies surrounding it, MSG is still widely used in processed food. However, many manufacturers try to conceal this fact.  They use different pseudonyms (for MSG) on their food labels. Some of these pseudonyms include; glutamic acid, hydrolyzed protein, autolyzed protein, protein isolate, modified food starch, modified corn starch, sodium caseinate, broth, seasonings, natural flavor, monopotassium glutamate, glutamate, gelatin, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, soy sauce, hydrolyzed plant protein, etc. So, for those with adverse reactions to MSG, endeavour to check food labels for any of the names listed in order to avoid them.

With no conclusive studies that quantify the ill effects of MSG, the choice is entirely yours. But to be on the safe side, you can make your own seasoning powder or stock! A combination of grinded dry fish and crayfish with natural herbs and spices such as garlic, ginger, turmeric, cloves and black pepper can also help bring out that great taste you want in your food. Enough of synthetic seasonings, our indigenous condiments such as “iru” and “ogiri” are still very much available.

About Dr Habeeb Ali Tunde

Dr. Habeeb Ali Tunde provides the most effective treatments to patients by integrating both conventional and alternative medicine that address all aspects of pain and wellness.

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