By: AAMIR AHMAD
PR. MSC CHEMISTRY
Mono Sodium Glutamate is a sodium salt of glutamate – an amino acid present in human bodies that plays a vital role in metabolism and communication of human neurons. Glutamate is an amino acid that occurs naturally in foods like tomato , green pea , onion , mushroom , chicken and breast milk. Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda first produced it in the year 1908. Ikeda identified glutamate as the key compound that gives dried seaweed its flavour, and worked on to develop it in the form of MSG, which could easily be used in food.
Glutamate and its salts contain sodium, potassium, magnesium, ammonium or calcium, which are now added to foods as flavour enhancers on daily basis, and not just in continental or Chinese food. As per the regulations of FDA, PFA, FSSAI and other regulatory bodies, these salts are listed as E-numbers (E620 to E625) in food labelling. But foods with high levels of glutamate, such as mushrooms, cheeses and fruit juice, are not so labelled.
Monosodium glutamate is commonly known as Ajino Moto and is the most widely used food additive for its flavour enhancing properties. In the human body, glutamate acts like a neurotransmitter in the brain which plays a crucial role in memory and learning. It also serves as a protein-building block and contributes greatly to the characteristic ‘umami’, ‘the fifth taste’ of foods. The tongue has five kinds of basic taste-sensing receptors: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and the most recently discovered one, umami. Table salt (NaCl) activates the salty sensors, MSG hits the “umami” sensors. This taste is often described as savoury or meaty. Glutamates are found most often in fermented foods, like soy sauce or hard cheeses, and give them an added burst of flavour. Hydrolysed proteins and yeasts also yield glutamates. When used in small amounts , MSG adds this additional dimension to the food’s flavour profile.
Though an extremely small portion of the population (probably less than 1%) exhibits intolerance to MSG, it is a safe food ingredient in use for more than a century. Due to the presence of naturally occurring glutamate in our body, the body does not distinguish between natural glutamate from foods and the added ones.
Nowadays food items adulterated with MSG pose serious health hazards. The usage of MSG is strictly prohibited under law and any violation of the provisions of FSS Act & Regulations is liable for penalties as well as prosecution.
It has been confirmed after taking samples of so-called “taste enhancing powders” that MSG is added to many foods that people regularly eat, especially in restaurants and street-foods. “MSG is used in canned soups, meats, salad dressings, frozen dinners etc. It’s found in restaurants, cafeterias and, amazingly, even in baby food and infant formula.
Researchers explain that MSG is an excite toxin, which means it overexcites your cells to the point of damage or death, causing brain damage to varying degrees and potentially even triggering or worsening learning disabilities.
Given these facts, it is no surprise that MSG is greatly popular among chefs and the food industry across the world. Another issue that has cropped up in the debate over MSG is whether it is an allergen or not. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, it is not. The US Food and Drug Administration has found no evidence to suggest any long-term, serious health consequences from the consumption of MSG. However, it is true that some people might be sensitive to MSG, just as to many other foods and food ingredients. Because of any individual sensitivity that may occur, the food labels are required to indicate the presence of MSG.
The phrase “contains glutamate” appears on labels of foods containing MSG. There is general consensus in the scientific community that MSG is safe for the adult population. While MSG may be considered safe for children, it may be prudent to limit its intake during pregnancy .However, more empirical studies are needed to elucidate causal inference. But by no means can MSG be categorised as a toxic, unsafe ingredient. The ongoing confusion about MSG requires us to differentiate and distinguish this from the natural glutamate present in foods. What is needed is a authentic relook at food safety issues including hygiene, microbial safety, contaminants and adulterants bla bla bla .
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