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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 | The 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.

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Crime

Mystery surrounds security guard found dead in his Phuket room

The Thaiger

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Mystery surrounds security guard found dead in his Phuket room | The Thaiger

PHOTOS: Phuket Hot News

The security guard of a hotel in Nai Yang, northern Phuket, 52 year old Yingyot Butsabong, from Maha Sarakham province, was found dead yesterday (October 16) in his room. Police remain mystified how the man came to grief.

A woman named Supattra received a call from the hotel he worked at and was informed that he didn’t show up at work yesterday, so she went to his apartment to check on him.

She saw that his room was locked from the inside, so used the key she had in her possession to open the room and found Yingyot laying on the floor, face down. She thought he was just sleeping so she tried to wake him up but once she flipped him, she found that he already passed away.

She immediately called Saku police, and once on the scene, police found that there was some blood on the floor. The man had a 2 centimetre wound on his left eyebrow which was deep into his skull. There was also a wound on his chin about 1 centimetre long and about a centimetre deep. His left eye had a bruise which looked like he was attacked by a hard object.

Police report that he had been dead for around four hours in the room.

The room was not ransacked and there was no sign of fighting or theft. His body has been sent to Thalang Hospital for a detailed autopsy and to look into the cause of death.

SOURCE: Phuket Hot News

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People

‘Always Smile Journey’ raises fund to provide free English classes for underprivileged people

Nattha Thepbamrung

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‘Always Smile Journey’ raises fund to provide free English classes for underprivileged people | The Thaiger

On October 18, the ‘Always Smile Journey’ group and its partners will host an exhibition with plenty of fun activities at the Yak Yai Market, near Chalong Circle, in Phuket. This event was designed to raise funds to provide free English classes for underprivileged people on the island of Phuket on Saturdays and Sundays. The group does not accept donations but aims to raise money through the sales of the products available at the event.

‘Always Smile Journey’ raises fund to provide free English classes for underprivileged people | News by The Thaiger

From 2 pm to 8 pm, there will be a number of artists, musicians and performers who will keep the attendees entertained along the way. There will be a short film about His Majesty King Rama 9 as well as fun activities and games for kids and families, which are all free of charge.

The big bike crew is also a part of this event. They will ride a parade from Rawai Beach heading to the market and showcase their gorgeous two-wheel buddies.

One of the highlights of the Always Smile Journey exhibition is the ‘Happening’ artists group, who will draw and paint a picture of the His Majesty King Rama 9 under the name ‘Street Art King Bhumibol’ on a 4×10 meter sign live at the event so the guests will experience this large-scale art in action. The Happening will also offer portrait sketching for the participants.

‘Always Smile Journey’ raises fund to provide free English classes for underprivileged people | News by The Thaiger

One of the works created by the Happening team; a painting of HM the King Rama 9 on a huge wall (Photo credit: Chawat Chumpasan)

There will also be some western menus available at the event which will be donated to underprivileged children.

This free English class project has over seven years of experience through its cooperation working with individuals and other charity organizations. Throughout the years, the group visited several areas such as Ban Laem Hoy School, Ban Bopud School and Ban Angthong School in Samui, Surat Thani province, Ban Bueng Ao Oun School and Ban Kakoh Rayong, in Surin province, Jalae Village of Lahu (Muser) in Chiang Rai province, as well as community education centers in Siem Reap, Cambodia and in Luang Prabang, in Laos.

This event is a cooperation between several groups, including Happening, Yak Yai Market and Arrow Media, Tattoo artist group, Thonburi Art School Alumni, International School of Tourism, Suratthani Rajabhat University, big bike group from Phuket, artists/performers/musicians from many provinces as well as several businesses across Phuket.

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Bangkok

The world’s fastest growing tourist destinations

The Thaiger

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The world’s fastest growing tourist destinations | The Thaiger

PHOTO: Hello Phuket – destined for huge tourist growth in the next six years – fodors.com

In 2018, international tourist arrival traffic grew by 6% to reach a total of 1.4 billion world tourists, according to research by UNWTO World Tourism Barometer. And there’s a lot more to come with international travel predicted to increase by a massive 35% over the next six years to 2025.

But where is all that extra traffic going to go? Which destinations are quiet now that might be swarming with tourists in the years to come? Two destinations in Thailand are set for a prosperous future, according to the data. Whilst almost all the growth is excepted to be to Asian destinations, an under-visited resource for world tourism so far.

Euromonitor data has been used to simulate tourist growth models and reveal the fastest growing projected visitor arrivals in major cities and destinations around the world for 2025, compared to arrival figures in 2018.

In Thailand, Phuket’s tourist traffic is poised to increase up to 85% in the next six years, from nearly 12 million arrivals in 2018 to over 22 million in 2025. Bangkok is predicted to see the 8th most prolific rise in tourist traffic, with arrivals in Bangkok set to swell an additional 68% during the same period. Doha, the capital of Qatar, is set to explode with 104% increase in traffic over the next six years.

The data also predicts that both Bangkok and Phuket will rebound big time in 2020, Phuket in particular with a growth of around 20% for the next year, accord to the data from TravelSupermarket.com.

By 2025 the data predicts that Bangkok will be the world’s #1 tourist destination, a position it’s held before in recent years. The Thai capital will be followed by Singapore, Dubai, Phuket and Kuala Lumpur, making South East Asia the world’s emerging tourism hotspot.

Some of the world’s favourites – New York, Paris, London – will continue to grow their tourist numbers but not at the rate of most Asian destinations.

You can read the full list HERE.

The world's fastest growing tourist destinations | News by The Thaiger

Stats compiled by travelsupermarket.com

The world's fastest growing tourist destinations | News by The Thaiger

Stats compiled by travelsupermarket.com

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