What is Ajinomoto? Why is it considered harmful?

Ajinomoto is one of the most popular taste enhancers in various cuisines around the world. The use of the ingredient is increasing day by day; it being found in every other packet food. And, in line with the growth of the use of ajinomoto, the concern about it is also rising.
The real name of the food ingredient known to people as ajinomoto is mono sodium glutamate. Ajinomoto is actually the name of the company that produces the chemical. The Ajinomoto Corporation is a Japanese food and chemical company which produces seasonings, cooking oils, sweeteners, amino acids, and pharmaceuticals. The corporation’s flagship products are mono sodium glutamate (MSG) and aspartame.

Japanese spice maker’s Co President and CEO Masatoshi Ito

Their MSG product is marketed in the trademark name of Ajinomoto which literally translates into ‘Essence of Taste.’ The seasoning was discovered and patented by Kikunae Ikeda in 1908. It reached the Japanese markets in 1909.

Monosodium glutamate is the sodium salt of glutamic acid, a non-essential amino acid. It is naturally abundant, found in tomatoes, potatoes, mushrooms, and many other vegetables and fruits.
Kikeda was experimenting on Kombu, an edible seaweed, to extract its savory taste when he came across MSG. He found out that the substance responsible for the likeable flavor of broths made of kombu was the glutamate salt. He called the taste umami, meaning ‘pleasant taste’. Even though all glutamate salts produce the umami taste, sodium glutamate is the easiest one to extract among them. MSG is a very effective flavor enhancer which intensifies the meaty flavor of the food and enhances all other tastes when added in the right amount.
Even though it was born in Japan, ajinomoto has entered almost every cuisine in the world. Its cheap price is also appealing. But the doubts about its health risks are also rising. A lot of research has gone into the side effects of ajinomoto. The most common problem linked to its use is recurring headache. Nerve issues are reported widely, and it is said to trigger diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Other numerous health problems linked with ajinomoto are obesity, sterility, high blood pressure, chest pains, abdominal problems, asthma, hormonal imbalance, autism, food allergies and eye problems. Pregnant women and infants are particularly advised not to consume the substance.
However, despite the allegations, not many scientific studies have come in support to the claims about ajinomoto’s side effects. MSG is recognized as safe to consume in many countries. A reason can be the adverse impacts such revelations can have on the ajinomoto industry. Several people have also claimed that the fear of ajinomoto in western countries is because its Asian origin. Let us hope for better and impartial studies that would shed light on the effects of ajinomoto.

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