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Spoonful of MSG still stirs up fear in Phuket

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Spoonful of MSG still stirs up fear in Phuket | Thaiger

Special Report

Entire websites are devoted to warnings about monosodium glutamate (MSG). Its detractors claim that it causes cancer, headaches, palpitations, excessive neurological excitement, hair loss and more.
Is it really not good for us? What are the facts? The
Phuket Gazette‘s Leslie Porterfield reports.

PHUKET: MSG was first produced in 1908 by Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda, who wanted to identify the unique flavor of a popular broth made from a seaweed called kombu. Ikeda felt the flavor was neither salty, sweet, sour or bitter.

He discovered that the taste came from the glutamate the seaweed was rich in, and gave the new, “fifth taste”– neither salty, sweet, sour or bitter – the name “umami”.

If you like meaty stews, Parmesan cheese, ripe tomatoes or mushrooms, you like umami – which is a rich, savory flavor.

Though the Japanese name is relatively new, the taste itself has long been appreciated. The
ancient Romans prized a fermented fish sauce called “garum” which was rich in glutamates.

The website of an American cooking magazine, Cook’s Country, lists ingredients rich in glutamates that can be added to recipes to boost flavor: soy sauce, fish sauce, Worcestershire sauce, anchovies, tomato paste, mushrooms, olives, miso, parmesan, marmite, kombu and beef stock.

Chefs interested in molecular gastronomy – how chemicals in foods interact to create or boost flavor – know that it’s not only glutamate that gives the flavor of umami, but two other compounds as well: inosinate and guanylate.

Combining two of these turbocharges taste, which explains why recipes around the world combine the
elements: the Japanese add dry fish flakes (inosinate) to their kombu broth (glutamate); a western stew might combine onion and potatoes (glutamate) with beef (inosinate); Chinese chefs add cabbage (glutamate) with chicken (inosinate).

The classic American cheeseburger mixes beef (inosinate) and cheese (glutamate). And don’t forget the slice of tomato or tomato ketchup, both rich in glutamates.

MSG, it turns out, is a shortcut to yummy.

WHAT IT’S MADE OF

Professor Ikeda patented MSG and founded a company to manufacture it – Ajinomoto – which to this day is the world’s leading producer.

In the early days, MSG was made from wheat gluten; nowadays it’s made by a process of fermentation using sugar, such as molasses from sugarcane or beet, and a starch that is locally abundant – in the US, corn; in Thailand, cassava flour.

WORRIES START

If glutamate has been prized for centuries and we like umami flavor, why the concerns about MSG?

Anxiety about the product seems to stem from 1968, when a biochemist wrote a letter to the New England Journal of Science saying that Chinese restaurant food left him lightheaded and with odd aches and pains. The following issue of the journal published more purported ill-effects.

Robert Ho Man Kwok, the letter-writer, had hypothesized that MSG, high sodium or excessive alcohol intake were the culprits, but public attention focused only on MSG.

Chinese restaurant owners at the time disputed the idea. “There are 700 million people on earth who eat Chinese food every day, and nothing has ever happened to them,” said one. “The only headaches I get are from running this place and paying taxes,” said another.

Yet more than 40 years later, the concerns persist.

At a popular morning boiled rice shop in Phuket Town, about 5 per cent of the customers request no MSG, the owner, Ann Sukjaroen, told the Gazette.

“Mostly it’s parents asking me not to put it in their children’s food, or people very concerned about their health,” said Ann, who normally adds a quarter teaspoon of MSG to each bowl of boiled rice with pork stock and goes through about five kilos of the white powder per month.

“Most people want it, but they don’t want to know about it.”

A recent email to the Gazette highlighted misunderstandings about the product. “I would like to find out what the local health authorities in Phuket have to say about the use of MSG,” the writer said. “In many countries this cancer-causing powder has been banned for years, but I have seen bags full of Ajinomoto in some stores here in Phuket.”

Far from being banned, MSG is considered safe by multiple international health and food organizations.

RESEARCH

The subject of over 40 years of testing, MSG is one of the most researched food additives in history.

The results? At levels normally consumed as a flavor enhancer, MSG is safe for the general population.

This is the position held by: the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives, the Commission of European Communities, the Food Standards Australia New Zealand, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Thai FDA and many other food safety
organizations.

Experiments with people who reported negative reactions to MSG have not yielded conclusive results, except when MSG was given – without food – in higher amounts than is normally consumed.

A US FDA fact sheet says, “Although many people identify themselves as sensitive to MSG, in studies with such individuals given MSG or a placebo, scientists have not been able to consistently trigger reactions.”

Studies commissioned by the FDA in the 1990s found some “short-term, transient, and generally mild symptoms, such as headache, numbness, flushing, tingling, palpitations and drowsiness in some sensitive individuals who consume three grams or more of MSG without food.

As a point of reference, daily consumption of MSG is about 0.5 to 1 gram in the US and UK and 1.5 grams in Thailand, Japan and Korea.

Due to the preponderance of studies showing the safety of MSG as a food additive, it received the rating of GRAS – generally recognized as safe – from the US FDA. Sugar has a GRAS rating; so do vinegar and mustard.

The Food Standards Australia New Zealand notes that “a very small number of people who are sensitive to a range of foods, especially those with asthma, may be sensitive to glutamate. These people should ask if it is being used in restaurants and should note that glutamates are naturally present in certain foods.”

Because it is generally recognized as safe, there are no restrictions on how much MSG restaurants can add to food,” said Kajornsak Kaewjarus, Chief of the Phuket Provincial Health Office.

“At one time, the WHO recommended no more than six grams of MSG a day,” added Dr Kajornsak, “but they have since removed that limit.”

Because MSG is considered safe, it has no ADI, acceptable daily intake, restrictions.

“However, there are restrictions against using fake MSG. It carries a fine of up to 100,000 baht and up to 10 years in prison.”

PREVALENCE

In addition to the 0.5 to 1 gram of MSG we consume daily as a food additive, we get about 20 to 40 grams of naturally occurring glutamate per day through our food.

Glutamate is the salt of glutamic acid, which is an amino acid. Since amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, it shouldn’t be too surprising to discover that even our bodies produce glutamate; about 50 grams a day. Human breast milk has 10 times the glutamate of cow’s milk.

Humans’ appetite for glutamates is not new; and as a modern-day version of the Roman’s garum, MSG has the advantage, apart from a slight saltiness, of being more or less tasteless, allowing it to be used in a wide range of foods.

It’s used not only in restaurants, but in a wide range of processed foods as well – take a look at a bottle of salad dressing or pack of chips, for starters.

Like it or fear it, it doesn’t look like MSG will be going anywhere soon.

Additional reporting by Pannaphak Tak

— Leslie Porterfield

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

Chiang Mai

Tourism officials slash Songkran travel expectations by half

Tim Newton

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Tourism officials slash Songkran travel expectations by half | Thaiger

The TAT, ever the optimists regarding anything tourism related, even domestic tourism, predict that the Bangkok clusters that have emerged in the week before the Songkran break could reduce traffic and spending by up to half.

Today the CCSA is reporting 789 new infections and one additional death. 522 were local infections, mostly walk-ins to Bangkok hospitals, 259 were discovered through track and tracing. The remaining 8 were found in quarantine from overseas arrivals. In Phuket, another 17 cases have been reported today, taking the island’s week total to 43.

Tourism officials slash Songkran travel expectations by half | News by ThaigerGRAPH: Worldometer figures for Thailand, up to April 9

A 68 year old man from Nakhon Pathom province died on April 4 but wasn’t reported until today. The CCSA report that he died from Covid and “complications”. 33 other former patients have recovered and been discharged.

Last week the TAT estimated 3.2 million domestic trips would circulate 12 billion baht for the Thai economy. But the Tourism Authority has now slashed their estimates by half after hotels, airlines and bus companies reported mass cancellations in the last few days. Other provinces are reporting less than 20% cancellations. Although this weekend will see a lot of travel, Songkran doesn’t formally start until next Tuesday and the TAT expect there could be additional fallout as travellers decide to have a staycation for Songkran instead heading home.

Bangkok Post reports that 70% of travellers to Prachuap Khiri Khan and Hua Hin have already cancelled hotel bookings. Similar cancellations have been reported in Pattaya, Phuket and Chiang Mai. Many other provinces, particularly in the north east and north, are also enforcing quarantine on arrivals or additional paperwork to try and protect their provinces from any of the Bangkok clusters.

8 north eastern provinces rare now requiring 10 or 14 day quarantine periods for anyone arriving from areas where new clusters have been reported. Chiang Mai provincial officials say that tourists from Samut Prakan, Nakhon Pathom, Bangkok, Pathum Thani and Nonthaburi – basically Bangkok and surrounding provinces – must complete a 14 day mandatory quarantine or conduct a test for Covid when they arrive.

The reality is that the travel and quarantine changes are outstripping the ability to communicate them all. Anyone crossing into other provinces in the next few day, especially if you’re travelling from Bangkok and surrounding provincial ‘red zones’ can expect some additional paperwork or a Covid test. Or even quarantine.

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Education

Phuket student protests and is flunked as “not loyal to the nation”

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Phuket student protests and is flunked as “not loyal to the nation” | Thaiger
FILE PHOTO: Student protests led to one student not graduating due to being “not loyal to the nation, institution of the monarchy”

After participating in protests for student’s rights, a Phuket student was barred from graduating 9th grade, moving from middle school to high school, charged with being “not loyal to the nation, institution of the monarchy”. The student had advocated against mandatory uniforms and for student’s liberties. He told reporters that the school started paying attention to his actions last year when he participated in rallies in solidarity with students across Thailand. The school’s student affairs office received a copy of posts he made on social media encouraging others to join the cause. The school ordered a stop to his political actions, but he and his friends disregarded warnings and violated school rules when they handed out white ribbons to classmates. They received a warning from the student affairs office.

Student protests have increased after pro-democracy demonstrations surged in July last year, empowering many Thai people to speak out against injustices, including students’ rights and liberties. People from schools across the nation have been banding together in solidarity to bring their issues to public light.

On graduation day, all the students were promoted into high school, except for the one student protestor, says the Bad Student protest group. The theme of the day focused on dedication to the monarchy, country and religion, and specifically how students should be obedient. The student said he has received support from friends, but his parents remain neutral and his teachers have been completely silent on the matter. He is frustrated that he was punished for his right to express himself. He plans on testing with incoming students to re-enrol in the same school, and if he is not accepted because of the disloyalty charge, he will pursue legal ramifications, suing the school for blocking his right to an education over the student’s protests.

The student believes he needs to speak out to prevent school administrators from imposing on more students’ rights. He advocates for diversity in schools and ending prejudices, with increased liberties and freedoms for students.

“Schools must teach children to be able to think by themselves, not force children to think like them. Schools should create opportunities for students to express their ideas more freely.”

SOURCE: Prachatai

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

16 more Covid infections reported today in Phuket

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16 more Covid infections reported today in Phuket | Thaiger
iTrip.com

Phuket is reporting 16 more infections today. It follows visits from Bangkok and last weekend’s Kolour Beachside parties that have resulted in a number of new Covid infections. The number of new infections has reached 26. But deputy governor Vikrom Jakthee says the province has been successful in containing the new outbreak “due to its quick response measures which now include shuttering bars and nightlife venues.

One of the confirmed cases is a male teacher from Headstart International School in Kathu who, after attending the parties on the weekend, was back teaching students on Monday and Tuesday. The school has sent a letter to all parents advising them of the situation and organising testing for anyone who may have come in contact with the teacher.

The closure order in Phuket comes just as the island province was expecting to get an influx of visitors for Songkran, the Thai New Year. Many bar and club owners were expecting some increased traffic during the holiday week. Phuket officials say they will explain to bar and club owners why they decided to close the venues during the critical week for business.

Vikrom previously cited the start of the island’s Covid vaccine roll-out of Covid starting to head towards a herd immunity in time for the province’s proposed July reopening to international tourists. But he admitted that the sudden appearance of the coronavirus on the island again will force officials to reevaluate the schedule for reopening. He also said that almost all cases were in younger age groups of people in their 20s and 30s.

“Today, the number of infected people reported in Phuket has reached 26, many are from entertainment venues. This figure is relatively high. It jumped from 10 to 26 cases. We will invite operators of entertainment places in for discussions.”

Partygoers who went to any of the Kolour Beachside parties in Phuket last weekend are being asked to visit a local hospital for a Covid test. The parties hosted more than 3,000 people, drawing concern after a musician tested positive for Covid-19, having attended all 3 parties. The Phuket Provincial Government and Phuket Provincial Public Health Office released a statement yesterday advising all partygoers to get tested.

“Those who attended the Kolour parties from April 2 to 3 at Shelter Phuket Dance & Night Club in Patong, Cafe Del Mar Phuket in Kamala and Illuzion nightclub on Bangla Road in Patong are asked to get tested.”

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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