Healthcare professionals brainstorm on safety of food seasonings
• Ajinomoto insists monosodium glutamate is essential for normal functioning of digestive system
As part of efforts to educate Nigerians of the health effects and safety of food seasonings as well as enhance food taste and nutrition in Nigeria, West African Seasoning Company Limited (WASCO), an affiliate of a global food giant, Ajinomoto, makers of Ajinomoto seasoning has began brainstorming with healthcare professionals in the country.
The WASCO urged healthcare professionals to identify with the unique taste of Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) in food.The company, at a one day seminar organised by the company for healthcare professionals in Ibadan, Oyo State, said glutamate, based on scientific findings, is 100 per cent safe for consumption, adding that for over a century now, glutamate has been used to make good food taste better since it was discovered in 1908 as the source of umami taste in food.
The seminar, which held at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) Ibadan, Oyo State, provided the health experts a better understanding on the benefit and safety of umami seasoning in a view to educating their patients.
The seminar was intended for 130 medical and scientific professionals in academic, private and public sector including food technologists, nutritionists, pharmacists, doctors and dieticians from University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan.
Managing Director of WASCO, Mr. Niki Junichi, told the health workers that Umami is the fifth basic taste along with sweet, bitter, salty and sour while glutamate is an amino acid found naturally in protein-containing foods such as meat, vegetables, poultry and human breast milk. Junichi said there was nothing to fear about MSG as far as human health was concerned. Adding that glutamate has been the key to delicious taste that abounds in cuisines all over the world.
According to him, research has shown that glutamate from whatever source is important for the normal functioning of the digestive system. Giving insight into the taste of glutamate in food, Junichi said, “Because glutamate is the source of the unique taste of umami, it enhances the natural flavour of many foods. It is most effective when used with savoury foods that contain protein such as meat and vegetable dishes. It also harmonizes well with salty and sour tastes making glutamate effective in various sauces and dressings.”
In his presentation titled, “Umami and MSG in our foods”, which centered on scientific proof of the safety of glutamate, Mr. Takeshi Hatakeyama who represented the Director, Umami Information Centre, said MSG has been thoroughly studied by various independent international organizations in clinical and scientific studies which have all come to the same conclusion that it is safe time and again.
“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 Organization, World Health Organization and the European Commission’s Scientific Committee for Food demonstrates that glutamate is safe” he said.
Also, in his presentation titled, “MSG: Myths & Scientic facts”, Prof. Abiodun Sanni of the Department of Microbiology, University of Ibadan, told the healthcare professionals to work with facts and not rumours, stressing that glutamate has no health issues as purported in some quarters.
Affirming the safety of glutamate, Sanni who is a Professor of Microbiology, cautioned researchers against making fallacious claims that are not reproducible. “MSG produces 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. Sugar is a natural product. So, people should debunk the rumours about glutamate. The human body metabolises both the natural and added glutamate in the same manner”, he explained.
He further noted,” MSG does not cause allergy; it does not cause asthma– no link at all; it does not cause obesity; no adverse effect on the lung. Again, no study has shown any group of people not to take glutamate.”
Some of the participants who are food processing experts also attested to the safety of MSG during an interview with our correspondent.A university don, Prof. Rahman Akinoso of the Department of Food Technology, University of Ibadan, said from the studies he had read so far, using Ajinomoto is safe for human consumption. He urged consumers to consume MSG without fear as it is also found in foods high in carbohydrate such as sugarcane, yam, cassava, maize, adding that it is the further processing of these foods that gives us MSG.
Corroborating the views of his colleague, Dr. Abiodun Olapade also of the Department of Food Technology, University of Ibadan, said MSG is like any other food seasoning which people should consume without worrying about any health issues. Olapade who is Chairman, Nigerian Institute of Food Science and Technology (NIFST), Western Chapter, said: “MSG popularly known as Ajinomoto is safe like other food seasonings made with MSG. There is nothing wrong with it. The myths and misconception about Ajinomoto have no scientific proof.”
On her part, Mrs. Morenke Oshilaja, a dietician and Assistant Director, Dietetic Department, University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, said the workshop had further exposed her to the benefits and safety of Ajinomoto. They commended WASCO for the seminar, describing it as an eye opener.