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Flavour enhancers: harmless or unhealthy?

Everyone is familiar with the phenomenon: you crave a crisp, and before you know where you are, the whole packet is empty. The reason is that flavour enhancers whet the appetite and slow down the feeling of satiety.

As their name suggests, flavour enhancers intensify the flavour or aroma of the food in question. They are not herbs or spices, but natural or synthetically produced substances that are actually tasteless and simply emphasize the aroma or flavour of a food. The more intense aroma stimulates the feelings of hunger and ultimately encourages you to eat more. The best known flavour enhancer, glutamate, is a natural additive and is produced by the body itself. It is an important transmitter substance, which is responsible for cell metabolism in the brain. The body needs it e.g. for pain transmission, die memory, body growth, weight regulation and appetite control. Excessive consumption, which often results from the use of ready meals, can lead to outbreaks of sweating, stomach pains or migraine attacks.

What you need to watch out for
The Swiss Society of Nutrition (SGE/SSN) classifies flavour enhancers as additives and declares them with E numbers (E620-625). Glutamate (E621) is predominantly found in seasoning mixes, such as Aromat, in canned products, deep-frozen products and ready meals, crisps and other snacks, instant soups and sauces, salad dressings and also sausage products. The additive is difficult to find in the ingredients list of foods, because it is left up to the producer to decide whether or not to indicate the E numbers or more general terms. The flavour enhancer is often hidden behind names such as yeast extract, spices, tomato powder, milk protein concentrate or simply aroma. There is no glutamate in baby food, milk, non-emulsified oils and fats, pasta, cocoa and chocolate products or fruit juices.

Delicious alternatives
Cook with fresh ingredients instead of heating up canned products or ready meals, because unprocessed foods contain less glutamate than instant products. Season your meals with real spices and fresh herbs, because these have an intense flavour and lend the meal the zest it needs. Before serving, you can also add a little cream or wine for added refinement.