Health  

Experts explain safety of glutamate

Medical experts have reiterated the safety of Umami food seasoning for cooking meals. They said Umami substance is present in most natural foods such as meat, seafood, vegetables, cheese and milk. They said it is also abundant in breast milk.

The medical experts at an online event to mark the Umami Seasoning Day, July 25, organised by West African Seasoning Company Limited (WASCO), makers of Ajinomoto Umami food seasoning, said Umami seasoning enhances taste of dishes and is a universal taste and is one of the five basic tastes along with sweet, sour, salty and bitter. They said the common Umami food seasoning in Nigeria, Ajinomoto or Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) is simply made from sugarcane through the natural process of fermentation.

The medical experts include: Professor of Microbiology at the Department of Microbiology, University of Ibadan, Abiodun Sanni; a lecturer in the Department of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, College of Applied Food Sciences and Tourism, Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Dr. Helen Henry-Unaeze.

They said an extensive body of research which has been reviewed by scientists and governments around the world, including the United States Food and Drug Administration (US FDA), the American Medical Association, experts of the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), World Health Organisation (WHO) and the European Commission’s Scientific Committee for Food demonstrates that MSG, which is the active ingredient in Ajinomoto is safe.

The Umami Seasoning Day is celebrated on July 25 every year to raise awareness about the importance of the Umami seasoning in cooking and its safety for consumption.

The day is also aimed at educating people for better understanding and appreciation of Umami and its essential role in food.

Sanni said Nigerians should work with facts and not rumours, stressing that glutamate has no health issues as purported in some quarters.

Sanni said: “MSG produces a unique and fifth taste known as Umami. We have a lot of glutamate in our local foods. Iru for instance is umami. When you take Iru, you take a lot of glutamate. So, people should debunk the rumours about glutamate. The human body metabolizes both the natural and added glutamate in the same manner.

“MSG does not cause allergy, it does not cause asthma- no link at all. It does not cause obesity and adverse effect on the lung. Again, no study has recommended that any group of people should not take glutamate.”

Asking consumers to always work with fact and evidence and to dispel misguided information and misconception about Ajinomoto, Henry-Unaeze said there is no food that is tasty without a glutamate.

“Ajinomoto Umami Seasoning enhances the taste of food. It brings out the flavor of a wide variety of savory foods and makes them palatable. MSG can also be used to reduce the amount of sodium in foods—it contains one third percent less sodium than table salt,” she said.

Henry-Unaeze pointed out that a lot of studies have been carried out on the safety of MSG, which confirmed it to be safe for human consumption.

Managing Director, WASCO, Mr. Niki Junichi, said the safety of Ajinomoto has long been scientifically proven and its safety approved by authorised agencies of the United Nations.

Junichi noted that based on its safety, Umami Seasoning is consumed in over 130 countries, adding that the usage of MSG was to enhance taste and also increase deliciousness of food. Umami seasoning, according to him, has been safely used as food ingredient since 1908 after a Japanese scientist, Dr. Kikunae Ikeda, discovered it.

He assured that the company was committed to bringing out the natural taste in cooking through safe and cost-effective seasonings, urging Nigerians to dispel any myth or misconception about Ajinomoto.

Head of Marketing, WASCO, Mr. Isah Hassan Shallangwa, said: “The benefits of the seasoning include enhancing and promoting the deliciousness of our meals, it is economical, it reduces salt intake and it is rich in glutamate, one of the free amino acids. Almost all seasoning contains MSG.”

The non-essential amino acid glutamate participates in numerous metabolic pathways in the body. It also performs important physiologic functions, which include a sensory role as one of the basic tastes (as MSG]), and a role in neuronal function as the dominant excitatory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. Its pleasant taste (as MSG) has led to its inclusion as a flavouring agent in foods for centuries. Glutamate’s neurotransmitter role was discovered only in the last 60 years. Its inclusion in foods has necessitated its safety evaluation, which has raised concerns about its transfer into the blood ultimately increasing brain glutamate levels, thereby causing functional disruptions because it is a neurotransmitter.

This concern, originally raised almost 50 years ago, has led to an extensive series of scientific studies to examine this issue, conducted primarily in rodents, non-human primates, and humans.

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