In the absence of law, MSG grows stronger

The recipe

Just the other day, whilst browsing through one of our largest supermarkets, a packet of boerewors caught my eye. Now I like boerewors just as much as the next guy and seeing that I currently have no stock of the home-made kind, I slipped a packet into my basket.

The very first line on the label said “Proudly No. 1” which I took to mean “the best”. The label also contained a Namibian flag and a tag box that read “Champion Boerewors – 2012 – Namibia’s No. 1”. It looked quite promising, and seeing that the Namibia Chefs Association endorsed the product, I felt I was in safe hands and did not bother the read the remainder of the label.

Back home, I remembered seeing an advertisement promoting this year’s Champion Boerewors competition. I flipped through a few old newspapers and found what I was looking for. I was impressed.

number one

Any competition that offers a brand new car (of the Japanese not Chinese variety) has to be taken seriously. After all, this is, by anyone’s standard, big money.

I was curious about the terms and conditions – no one just gives away a brand new car now do they? So I visited the competition’s website (

The rules are pretty straightforward: 90% meat, less than 30% fat, beef (compulsory), lamb and/or pork, 10% spices, herbs and fluids.

I was very happy to see that “Boerewors may not contain any “mechanically recovered meat”, i.e. meat mechanically separated from bone. That means, no “pink slime”.  And that, in case you wonder, is a very, very good thing.

In addition, contestants may only add vinegar, spices, herbs, salt and/or harmless flavourants, water and cereal products such as oats and breadcrumbs, to their meat mixture.

So far, so good I thought.

Then I read the rest of the label on my packet of sausage, which I may add is now made locally and thus a “Product of Namibia”.

In addition to the meat (90%) and fat (less than 30%), the boerewors I bought contains: Water, Salt, Spices, Acidity regulator (unspecified), Starch (Corn/tapioca), flavourings – maize, sugar, irradiated garlic, hydrogenated vegetable fat (palm fruit), capsicum extract (TBHQ), flavourings – unspecified, MSG, preservative – Sodium metabisulphite – sulpher dioxide, Ascorbic acid.

Now let me say this straight away. I applaud the supermarket for listing the contents of its sausage on the label as not many supermarkets adhere to this type of transparency. To me, that counts for something.

But let’s look at some of the other ingredients that were added after the rights to use the recipe became the property of the supermarket. The picture gets bleaker, in my view that is.

Irradiated garlic: This product (as with many other herbs and spices) has been treated by a specific dosage of ionizing radiation to slow or stop spoilage by damaging DNA beyond the ability to repair. This does not mean your food becomes radioactive, and although irradiation is common in the manufacturing of foodstuffs just about everywhere, research is inconclusive as to its long-term effects.

Fresh ingredients
Fresh ingredients

Acidity regulator: The supermarket package does not specify which acidity regulator is used, so it is rather difficult to know what enters your body and what effects it would have. Acidity regulators maintain the ph levels in meat, and thus, prevent it from becoming rancid. Yet, unspecified acidity regulators are potentially dangerous as many consumers have allergic and more serious health reactions to regulators such as Butylated hydroxy-anisole (BHA), Butylated hydroxy-toluene (BHT), Citric acid and Phosphoric acid, have been noted.

Hydrogenated vegetable fat (palm fruit). Palm oil, with coconut oil, is one of only a few saturated vegetable fats. Hydrogenation is a process that turns vegetable oils into semi-solid or solid fats such as margarine. This process also produces saturate fats from unsaturated fats, and could produce trans fats as a by-product. Neither trans fats or polysaturated fats are deemed healthy as they are linked to increases in LDL cholesterol, and as such to coronary heart disease. In the USA as 2006 study by the National Institute of Health and the USDA Agricultural Research Service concluded that palm oil “is not a safe substitute for partially hydrogenated fats (trans fats) in the food industry, because palm oil results in adverse changes in the blood concentrations of LDL cholesterol and apolipoprotein B just as trans fat does”. And if this is not enough to make you change your mind about the benefits of palm fat in your sausage, the increased use of palm oil in the food and bio-diesel industries world wide has caused the shrinkage of the natural habitat of critically endangered species such as the Orangutan and Sumatran tiger.

Monosodium glutamate (MSG): Perhaps one of the most contentious food additives. In its organic form, it can be found in seaweed or kombu and the main driver of the Umami (savoury) taste. In the food industry the inorganic form is used to round off flavours.

The remaining ingredients are inorganic antioxidants and are added in order to preserve the product. Elsewhere in the world, their use is regulated and fixed limits are set to the amounts that are allowed to be added to foodstuffs.

Now, at the end of the day, it is your choice if you want to consume Namibia’s No. 1 Champion Boerewors. I would not, not again anyway.

You see, when I bought the package, I did not sign up for the additives. I know I should have read the label right there in the shop, but I admit I did not.

kebab or sosatie.

My main concern is that by adding all these additives, a natural, nutritious food product is transformed into a manufactured one. Instead of only eating meat, spices and fat, we get so much more. I do understand the reasons for the additives: the preservatives act to prolong shelf life and prevent spoilage. I also know that cheap hydrogenated fats are added to make the product cheaper or, at least, profits larger. But I cannot bring myself to agree with the effects of these efforts. Not to me. Nor to the poor Orangutans in Borneo.

I do not buy the argument that it is used because it is legal. That is just lame. In this country, there is no legislation that regulates food additives, so everything is legal, irrespective of it long-term effects and consequences – good or bad. But does that make it right? Morally justifiable? I think not.

It is not accidental that the debate around food additives focuses on proving that they are not harmful. No one seems to be arguing that additives are good for us. Maybe there is no evidence to that effect.

The truth is, in the long run, we all will pay the costs. The modern food system is a destructive one – of that there is more than enough evidence for anyone who cares to look. Supermarkets, including the one making our No.1 sausage, are part of the system and thus part of the problem.

So is our Government. For not caring and addressing the problem. I am afraid time is running out. Without proper legislation and the means to enforce it, we will become a garbage heap of additive rich foods. In the absence of laws, MSG will grow stronger – for as the quest for greater profits intensifies, cheaper, artificial alternatives will replace natural produce and substance.

As to the effect? I believe Dr. A. Saul was correct when he said:

“’Modern medicine’ may well be defined as ‘the experimental study of what

happens when poisonous chemicals are placed into malnourished human bodies.’”

The competition website boasts that: “Boerewors is the pride of meat-loving southern Africa and here in Namibia we do it right!”

Sad. If only.

May the best boerewors win. One day.

Today’s recipe is (naturally) pure, free from additives. Every on loves a good kebab or sosatie. These I have cold smoked with rosemary to make them much more flavourful.

Grill them or braai them. Above all, enjoy them.


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