As bizarre as it may sound a BJP legislator, Ramesh Arora, has been campaigning for a ban against momos in slums across Jammu. However, his food activism is not limited to the popular succulent street savoury. The lawmaker is against “cancer-causing” Chinese cuisine laced with monosodium glutamate, sold under the brand name Ajinomoto, a chemical flavour enhancer. We speak to food experts, chefs and celebrities on the ill effects on harmful additives like Ajinomoto, whether the ban is justified and if it can be fixed in any way.
Rakhee Vaswani, Celebrity Chef: Shouldn’t we ban the ingredient instead?
I understand the health consequences, but I also feel that there is always a possibility of getting healthier substitutes and natural taste enhancers. And if the problem was Ajinomoto, shouldn’t we be banning the ingredient rather than the food dish? Let’s accept it, momos are not the only dish that has Ajinomoto. I feel the problem is deeper than just momos. Let’s make wiser decisions and focus on other things that need attention.
Ajinomoto is present in natural foods too: Soju Philip, Executive Chef at Ramada Cochin Resort
A ban against momos is no way a justifiable proposition since it is a typical ethnic food of the North East. The street food is, in fact, part of our heritage in the same way as vada pav is a part of the culinary heritage in Mumbai.
Only good ingredients and hygienic kitchens can ensure food safety. There have been no definitive scientific studies to establish that monosodium glutamate is harmful. In my view, limited usage is not going to cause any harm. What Ajinomoto achieves is to bring a sixth dimension of taste called umami. This taste is naturally present in several food substances anyway.
The need of the hour is to ensure that the food we eat is safe for consumption and free of adulteration. This is where the authorities can contribute a lot by implementing laws already in existence.
The scientific evidence against MSG is hardly conclusive: Anoothi Vishal, food expert, and columnist
If this is the case, then I would have to say that our lawmakers have gone absolutely overboard. The scientific evidence against MSG is hardly conclusive.
Adding MSG to your food in moderate quantities as a taste enhancer is hardly cancer causing. This is a myth because glutamate is the same substance even found in tomatoes!
To ban something on hearsay, because of an inconclusive mythic belief that has been discredited even in the West is ridiculous. Even earlier in America, MSG was only linked to headaches, nausea, etc. but not cancer. A safe and permitted brand can be used in limited quantities. Better still, you can use glutamate in anything from natural sources like tomatoes and cheese!
Ajinomoto has proven to cause adverse health effects: Sneha Chandrashekar, Food & Technology entrepreneur, The Chef Post
I think the ban should be more focused on the use of Ajinomoto, which is primary ingredient, in momos. This particular ingredient has proven to cause adverse health effects in children and adults alike, but it’s not just used in momos, but various other food products. The stringency should be centered around the foodmaking process, hygiene standards of street food and banning of such an ingredient as against a complete ban on popular street food.
Indian street foods are far more dangerous then momos: Puneet Mehta, Celebrity Chef
Lot of Indian street foods are far more dangerous then momos because they are not made with proper ingredients or served hygienically.
Also, Ajinomoto contains glutamate — a substance found in amino acids. This glutamate is also referred as umami taste, which makes food tastier. Ajinomoto is chemically crystalised form of glutamate stabilised with salt. This is also found naturally in items like asparagus, mushrooms, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, soy, green tea, type of cheeses, few seafoods, roasted meats etc. So, it is not dangerous for health, otherwise millions of people in China, its neighbouring regions and worldwide whould have been affected by it. I think momos or any other food with Ajinomoto is mnot dangerous and should not be banned. Instead one should fight to ban unhealthy cooking practices.
Momos aren’t unhealthier than smoking or pollution: Koushik Shankar, Chef at Maaplai restaurant
I find this move absolutely ridiculous. It is scary how India is moving towards the end of democracy. Momos aren’t unhealthier than smoking or pollution. Food is the culture of a place — it’s like banning filter coffee in south India.
There are many natural substitutes for that like yeast extracts. The government can regulate the manufacture of such natural alternatives which are also more affordable. Consumption of food is one’s own choice and people don’t eat momos for every meal every day. Religion should be kept away from the country’s policies.”