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Monosodium glutamate; MSG

A chemical, isolated in 1908 by a Dr.Kikunae Ikeda (of Tokyo University) from a type of seaweed (laminaria japonica) which had been used in Japan for centuries to improve the flavour of soups.

In the UK it is most commonly used by food manufacturers, but in Japan and the USA (where the most popular brand is called 'Aji-no-moto') it is commonly found in domestic surroundings. In other parts of South East Asia it's sold as 'Ve-tsin' - while in the West, the most common brand is 'Accent'. It's estimated that Americans consume 11g of glutamate daily from natural sources and another 1g from added MSG.

It is most effective when used as a flavour enhancer to intensify the flavour of high protein foods as it has little effect when added to simple or complex carbohydrates, and in manufactured food is labelled E621 - it is, in fact the sodium salt of 'glutamic acid' (E620).

It's commonly used in Chinese restaurants and the term "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome" has developed from those who have a chemical intolerance.

Researchers reported that two teaspoons of MSG in a six-ounce glass of juice produced symptoms of chest pains, dizziness, headaches, and numbness and concern has been voiced ever since on its necessity, particularly when added to children"s food. Experiments one mice also resulted in them developing brain damage.

The head of Heinz at the time retorted that a fifteen pound baby would have to eat twenty-six jars of baby food at one sitting to get as much MSG as the mice. They have since, however been removed from these sensitive products!

Most MSG is now produced from sugar beet molasses.

It should be remembered that many foods naturally contain various amounts of glutamate, the highest of which are tomatoes, mushrooms and Parmesan cheese; and it also has a strong presence in a mother's milk. But while the body metabolises food glutamates in the same way, many people who are allergic to MSG find that they can safely eat tomatoes and mushrooms.

It's estimated that about 25 per cent of the western population is allergic to MSG, in one way or another. It should also be remembered, that while some food labels may claim 'No MSG', it can be disguised with vague technical language, such as: glutamic acid, natural flavours, seasoning, modified food starch, autolyzed food yeast. See also "Flavour enhancers"

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