Tuesday, 13 July 2010
On Manufactured Seasoning Gunge aka MSG
This was the meal provided by Aerolines when we travelled to Singapore, recently.
Within half an hour of eating that seemingly attractive meal, we both developed a headache and nausea. We knew the reason why. The unnaturally 'nice' taste about that meal was because of MSG.
We asked the Steward if there was MSG in the food, but he looked puzzled. When we said 'aji-no-moto' he beamed a silly smile and responded with "But nice lor!" with an inflection on the word 'nice' as if to say , "What are you grumbling for?".
That disgraceful statement encapsulates what seem to be Malaysians' attitude to MSG, and their ignorance of its side effects - what some researchers describe as slow poisoning. Just trawl through the internet and you can get a vast range of information on the harm that MSG can inflict on your health, both short term and long term. Asthmatics and diabetics, in particular, have been advised to be extra-vigilant.
I'm no scare-monger, but I have seen enough of MSG's unpleasant - and at times alarming - aftermath. It is claimed that MSG in moderation is harmless. But how do you measure 'moderate" when this chemical is so widespread in our food chain - from processed and packaged food, including baby food, to the meals we consume at roadside food stalls, food courts, restaurants and hotels? Even our favourite pisang goreng (banana fritters) are not spared! Do read the ingredients on the snacks that our children devour - they look like a chemical formula for toilet cleansers!
If we think we can avoid MSG by keeping away from local food-stalls and turn instead to fast-food chains we are in for a surprise. I do not want to be sued by these Big Boys, but as I've said before, do your own reading and research.
Although it is mandatory for food manufacturers to label their products, the absence of the letters MSG does not give you the all-clear. MSG slips in - in words like 'natural flavour'. Other 'hidden names' for MSG include calcium caseinate, hydrolyzed plant protein, yeast extract, yeast food or nutrient, glutamic acid and sodium caseinate. There are innumerable websites that write about how food made with products like malt extract, modified food starch, rice syrup, natural beef and chicken seasonings, maltodextrin, soy sauce extract and loads more - also contain MSG.
In a country with such a rich culinary heritage as Malaysia's, food does not require a taste enhancer like MSG. I recalled how my mother got 'conned' into using what was then Ve-Tsin and Aji-no-Moto. We persuaded her that her cooking tasted just as delicious without that white powder. She went back to using prawns, dried or fresh to augment the flavour of her laksa and mee rebus. Rendang and sambal blacan and curry can stand on their own without such additives.
But today, many chefs from the electronic and print media happily drench their recipes with bahan perasa (seasoning), aka monosodium glutamate.
Perhaps I consider myself fortunate as my body sets off an alarm whenever I get an overdose of MSG. Just because one does not suffer a negative side-effect, it does not indicate that this food-enhancer is benign. Our food is saturated with this additive and too much of it, like excessive salt and sugar, are detrimental to our health.
All the more we have to scrutinize and be selective about what we feed our young as well as ourselves. I am not one for banning this and that. Malaysians are sufficiently mature (?!) to decide on what they consider good enough for their palate and their health. However, when we eat out, we should be given a choice on what is added to our food. I do not want MSG at all and I know I'm not alone in that request. For those who cannot enjoy their meals without MSG, place a container of the stuff on their table and they can then spray their food with as much as they like.
Right now, eating out at the food stalls and other eating places is not a pleasure any more. It has turned into a health hazard.
What was once described as "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome" can now be suitably changed to "Malaysian Makan Syndrome" - all because of Manufactured Seasoning Gunge.