What is Ajinomoto and how does it impact your body?
Ajinomoto is a brand name for monosodium glutamate (MSG), a common food additive used to enhance the flavour of foods. While for the longest time, the taste enhancer has been vilified, chef Ajay Chopra believes the umami-inducing ingredient can be used moderately for flavour. "Yes! That's right, Ajinomoto is okay to eat and is not as harmful as people make it to be. But always keep the measurements and frequency in check to enjoy the oh-so UMAMI," shared Chopra.
Let's deep dive into what is Ajinomoto all about and how it is used in our food.
"While MSG has been a subject of controversy over the years, it's important to understand that it is generally recognised as safe when consumed in moderate amounts by most people. MSG is a flavour enhancer that adds the umami taste to food, which is often described as a savoury, meaty, or brothy flavour," said Ankita Ghoshal Bisht, dietician in charge, Primus Super Speciality Hospital.
Why is it used in cuisines?
MSG is primarily used to enhance the umami or savoury taste of foods. It can make dishes taste more flavourful and appealing, which is why it's commonly used in many cuisines, said Dr Nirupama Rao, nutritionist, Rejua Energy Centre, Mumbai.
Ajinomoto is widely used in processed foods, restaurant cuisine, and fast-food items.
Fast food like noodles tend to have MSG (representative) (Source: Freepik)
However, it's crucial to keep a few things in mind.
Some individuals claim to experience symptoms like headaches, sweating, and chest pain after consuming foods containing MSG. This is sometimes referred to as "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome", described Dr Rao.
Additionally, some individuals may be sensitive to high doses of MSG or have underlying health conditions that make them more susceptible to its effects.
Ajinomoto is rich in sodium, a component of salt. "Overconsumption of sodium can lead to high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems, making it a concern for individuals with hypertension or those at risk of heart disease," said Shikha Agarwal, health and wellness consultant and founder, Nurture.
As with many food additives, moderation is key. "While MSG is considered safe for most people, consuming extremely large quantities of it may not be advisable," added Dr Rao.
According to Agarwal, there is some evidence to suggest that Ajinomoto-rich foods may encourage overeating due to their enhanced palatability. "This can contribute to weight gain and obesity over time," said Agarwal.
"In such cases, limiting or avoiding foods with added MSG is advisable," Dr Rao said.
How to keep a tab on MSG consumption?
It's essential to be aware of the source of MSG in your food. "Natural food sources of glutamate, such as tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, and mushrooms, also contain glutamate, and these can be part of a balanced diet," said Ghoshal Bisht.
Ghoshal Bisht emphasised that a diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods is generally considered healthier than relying on highly processed foods that often contain added MSG for flavour enhancement.
Ajinomoto or MSG can be used in your cooking as long as it's done in moderation, experts urge. "It can enhance the flavour of dishes, but a balanced and varied diet based on whole foods remains the foundation of good nutrition. If you have concerns about MSG or any food additives, it's a good idea to consult with a healthcare provider or a registered dietitian for personalised advice," Ghoshal Bisht too said.