There’s a really nice article detailing the history of MSG production in Worldkings — an Indian organization that notes significant achievements in a number of categories.
They featured Ajinomoto as one of the top 100 companies that have been in business over 100 years. But more than just a tip of the hat, Worldkings follows Ajinomoto from the day they introduced the original MSG into the market in 1909 through World War I, the opening of an office in New York, even noting that in April 1946 the company changed their name to Ajinomoto Co., Ltd. By 1950, the article says, exports from Japan accounted for 95% of the company’s revenue, with trade to Southeast Asia, Europe, and the United States increasing in subsequent years.
Then we learn that in the 1970s, Ajinomoto diversified further, launching a flavored seasoning called “Hon-dashi” in 1970 and beginning production of frozen foods in 1972.
But wait! Big things happened between 1950 and 1970. In 1957 a new and brilliant method for producing the glutamic acid used in MSG was introduced — a method that soon would be used world-wide for manufacture of amino acids. Brilliant science! Amazing profits! So, why was this not mentioned?
Has it got something to do with the method itself? According to a 1996 article by Leung and Foster in the Encyclopedia of common natural ingredients used in food, drugs, and cosmetics (the only such article without Ajinomoto’s authorship or sponsorship), the glutamic acid in monosodium glutamate is generally made by microbial fermentation. In this method, bacteria are grown aerobically in a liquid nutrient medium. The bacteria have the ability to excrete glutamic acid they synthesize outside of their cell membrane into the liquid nutrient medium in which they are grown. The glutamic acid is then separated from the fermentation broth by filtration, concentration, acidification, and crystallization, and converted to its monosodium salt.
Official patents dealing with the manufacture of glutamic acid confirm that Ajinomoto’s monosodium glutamate is made by this process of bacterial fermentation wherein carefully selected genetically engineered bacteria that are fed on various carbohydrate media secrete glutamic acid through their cell walls.
In stark contrast, the FDA, The Glutamate Association, and all of Ajinomoto’s other “divisions” maintain that MSG is usually produced through a fermentation process similar to that used in making beer, vinegar and yogurt, with MSG production beginning with the fermentation of corn, sugar beets or sugar cane.
Could there be concern that hearing about use of bacteria, particularly GMO bacteria, might turn people off?
Maybe they’re worried that discussing the way in which MSG is manufactured would suggest that there’s nothing “natural” about it.
Perhaps there’s fear it will leak out that unavoidable by-products (impurities) are produced when L-glutamic acid (the flavor-enhancing constituent of glutamic acid) and MSG are manufactured. D-glutamic acid and pyroglutamic acid are two powerful neurotoxins that would certainly attract the attention of toxicologists. (In all of their writings about the safety of MSG, Ajinomoto has never acknowledged the existence of impurities. That stands to reason because truly natural products wouldn’t have impurities.)
Possibly more important, however, would be hiding the fact that with virtually unlimited production of MSG it could become available in such quantities that the glutamate in MSG would become excitotoxic – capable of killing brain cells. And with the change in glutamic acid’s production method, that’s exactly what happened. There is now sufficient glutamic acid in food to become excitotoxic for anyone consuming more than one glutamate-containing product during the course of a day. Not hard to do considering the vast amounts of cheap processed and ultra-processed foods available.
Other important and unmentioned things happened between 1950 and 1970:
- In 1968, Dr. Ho Man Kwok wrote to the New England Journal of Medicine describing a set of reactions following MSG ingestion, that were eventually dubbed “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.”
- In 1969 Dr. John Olney observed that free glutamic acid and MSG administered to infant mice caused brain lesions in the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus, and that brain damage was followed by obesity, behavior disorders, reproductive dysfunction and a variety of other neuro-endocrine disorders.
- The term “excitotoxin” was coined to stand for an amino acid (like glutamic acid) that serves a necessary function when present in controlled amounts, but kills brain cells when quantities greater than required for normal body function become available.
The adage “If it wasn’t harmful, it wouldn’t be hidden” seems to apply perfectly here.
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