Quite a few times, we see ingredients in a product we do not recognise. Here’s an analysis of a flavour enhancer we use at home.
Many of us have, and to a great extent rightly so, an aversion to and fear of the presence of chemicals in our food. Sometimes, this causes us to overlook the fact that salt too, is sodium chloride, a chemical. For example, MSG or Mono Sodium Glutamate has acquired a bad reputation, despite the fact that glutamates naturally occur1 in foods including meats, cheeses and vegetables like tomatoes and mushrooms, a part of the reason they taste good to most of us. In fact, MSG is the source of something called ‘Chinese Restaurant Syndrome’, where researchers have been unable to replicate the symptoms people who claim to be sensitive to MSG, feel, under blind tasting conditions.
On the packet of Add It’s Veg Gravy Seasoning, I found the following ingredients:
- Edible Vegetable Fat
- Yeast Extracts
- Spices & Condiments
- Flavour Enhancer – E635
- Anti Caking Agent – 551
These, I have divided into the following categories:
- Flavour components:
salt, sugar, yeast extracts, spices and condiments
- Mouthfeel components:
cornflour, vegetable fat + maltodextrin
- Chemical additives:
E-635, E-551 (both less than 0.5% and 0.02% respectively, as per my discussion with the manufacturers)
I’m sure we’re well aware of sugar and salt, so I’ll skip those.
Yeast Extract – Most of us find the presence of naturally occurring MSG pleasurable in taste. Some of these foods are available for off the shelf use, as flavour enhancers, such as tomato paste. In fact there’s even a patent2 for this. Some of these aren’t readily available for consumer use, such as yeast extract, which contains naturally occurring glutamates3. The end result is an addition of flavour. Yeast extract is similar to products like Marmite and Bovril, which too contain naturally occurring MSG and are much loved. Unless you have medical reasons to avoid sodium, this is safe.
Vegetable fat enhances mouthfeel4, or how food tastes when it is in our mouths. In order to convert fat to powder5 (the product is a powder), it is combined with maltodextrin6 (a type of sugar).
E-635 is a naturally occurring addtive that enhances the flavour of foods that already contain MSG and as mentioned, is extracted from natural sources. It may or may not be vegan. This product has been declared to contains less than 0.5% or 1.25 gm of the additive. E-635 or Disodium ribonucleotides have been evaluated by the WHO7. Details can be found here. Additionally, this study8 found it to be safe.
E-551 or silicon dioxide is a food additive that prevents the product from caking and is present in most commercial products we use, including table salt. This product, which has been approved by the FDA9, has been declared to contain less than 0.02% or 0.05 gm of the additive. While it isn’t considered safe in large quantities10, by those working in industries like mining or construction among others, the results of multiple studies have shown no link between silicon dioxide as a food additive and different aspects of our health11.
Nearly every food, packaged or raw, natural or man-made has negative health consequences, depending on our own health conditions, what other foods we’re exposed to (interactions) and the quantity of the component we end up consuming (sum of all foods, packaged or natural).
But, let’s not close the door entirely for debate. Please feel free to comment below with questions about this and indeed any other product, including anything I’ve written in this post. I’m happy to share whatever information I have.
- 1.Staff W. Questions and Answers on Monosodium glutamate (MSG). US Food & Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/food/food-additives-petitions/questions-and-answers-monosodium-glutamate-msg. Published January 4, 2018.
- 2.Geifman A, Hartal D. Clear tomato concentrate as a taste enhancer. Google Patents. https://patents.google.com/patent/US6890574B1/en.
- 3.Carey E, Pletcher P. Is Yeast Extract Bad for Me? Health Line. https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/is-yeast-extract-bad-for-me.
- 4.Drewnowski A, Almiron-Roig E. Chapter 11: Human Perceptions and Preferences for Fat-Rich Foods. National Centre for Bio Informatics. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK53528/.
- 5.Blog A. Maltodextrin: Converting High-fat Liquids into Powder. Molecular Recipes. http://www.molecularrecipes.com/techniques/converting-high-fat-liquids-powder/. Published January 22, 2011.
- 6.Shaefer A, Baker L, Ana G, Butler N. Is Maltodextrin Bad for Me? Health Line. https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/is-maltodextrin-bad-for-me.
- 7.World Health Organisation X. WHO Technical Report Series. Evaluation of Certain Food Additives and Contaminants. https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/36981/WHO_TRS_837.pdf?sequence=1.
- 8.Worden A, Rivett K, Edwards D, Street A, Newman A. Long-term feeding study on disodium 5-ribonucleotide in dogs. Toxicology. 1975;3(3):341-347. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1124541.
- 9.None N. Code of Federal Regulations Title 21. US Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfCFR/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=172.480. Published April 1, 2019.
- 10.Athinarayanan J, Periasamy V, Alsaif M, Al-Warthan A, Alshatwi A. Presence of nanosilica (E551) in commercial food products: TNF-mediated oxidative stress and altered cell cycle progression in human lung fibroblast cells. Cell Biol Toxicol. 2014;30(2):89-100. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24526451.
- 11.Schaefer A, Wilson DR. Is Silicon Dioxide Safe. Health Line. https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/is-silicon-dioxide-in-supplements-safe. Published June 18, 2018.