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Food Fraud - Instant Noodles

Sid Khullar, Modified: April 23, 2013 11:48 IST

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Food Fraud - Instant Noodles Given the current scenario where everyone, but everyone, is frantic in their hunt for healthier foods, brands, who probably created this scenario to begin with, now step in with their versions of healthy food products. The top of my charts for this segment are Instant Noodles. Instant noodles are fed to children just about anytime they ask for it, barring pre-mealtime I suppose, and their nutrient content usually boosted with the addition of a few chopped vegetables. Most brands manufacturing these instant noodles have stepped up their 'Healthy' campaigns with loud cries of 'No MSG' etcetera. I went shopping and came back with a dozen different types of instant noodles from very well known brands, and here's what I found. Please note here, these are findings and presented as such for you to reach your own conclusions.

Brand
Claim
Selected Ingredients


Brand 1

Claim:
100% Vegetarian
No added MSG

Selected Ingredients:

Hydrolysed Groundnut Protein,
Mineral 170 (i),
Mineral 508
Flavour Enhancer 635


Brand 2

Claim:
100% Vegetarian
No added MSG

Selected Ingredients:
Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (Soya)
Flavour Enhancer 631
Flavour Enhancer 627


Brand 3

Claim:
100% Vegetarian

Selected Ingredients:
Hydrolyzed Groundnut Protein
Flavour Enhancer 621
Flavour Enhancer 627
Flavour Enhancer 631


Brand 4

Claim:
100% Vegetarian
No added MSG

Selected Ingredients:
Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein
Flavour Enhancer 627
Flavour Enhancer 631


Brand 5

Claim:
100% Vegetarian
   
Selected Ingredients:
Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein
Flavour Enhancer 627
Flavour Enhancer 631
 
I can't say I was very surprised at what I found. To begin with Hydrolysed protein is made by breaking down a protein into its component amino acids. On an industrial scale, this usually means boiling the protein in a strong acid. Strong acids are a particular type of acid and include hydrochloric, sulphuric and nitric acids. If that's not enough, hydrolysed protein naturally contains free glutamates, the same type as in MSG... that work as a flavour enhancer, which the packaging isn't required to mention, since it is an ingredient of an ingredient. No added MSG.

If you thought minerals have to be a good thing, you may be in for a surprise. Mineral 170 (i) or Calcium carbonate is used to regulate acidity, prevent caking and stabilize a food substance among other uses such as surface colouring. Calcium carbonate is also usually the main cause behind hard water, the stuff we install RO machines to get rid of from our drinking water. Having said that, Calcium carbonate does have medicinal applications too. Mineral 508 or Potassium Chloride on the other hand is the stuff used by surgeons to stop a beating heart for some operations, lethal injections, fertilizer production and food processing.

Coming to flavour enhancers, E635 or disodium ribonucleotides essentially does the same job as MSG, i.e. create umami flavours in food. A mixture of disodium inosinate (E631) and disodium guanylate (E627), it is interesting to note that inosinates and guanylates are generally produced from meat and fish thus making them unsuitable for vegetarians. They can also be produced from Tapioca starch, seaweed and yeast. Guanylates are generally not recommended for babies under 12 weeks, asthmatics and those suffering from gout. Finally, E621 is also known as monosodium glutamate; arguably the world's most popular and most feared flavour enhancer.

Interesting is the case of Brand 5, where the product proudly states Rice + Wheat + Ragi + Corn on the cover. A quick look at the ingredient list tells us what that means, 75% wheat, 1.2% rice, 1.2% corn and 1.2% Ragi. To put that into perspective, in 100 grams of these noodles, the rest of the grains wouldn't even fill a teaspoon!

 At the end of the day, we as consumers, are responsible for what we eat, not the brands. I suggest reading ingredient labels and assuming another level of responsibility ourselves, rather than leaving it to those with commercial interests.

* Brand names have been changed.

Author: Sid Khullar
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