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Mainely Tipping Points

Mainely Tipping Points 39: SENOMYX’S PATENTED CHEMICAL FLAVOR ENHANCERS

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Mainely Tipping Points 39

Feb. 1, 2012

 

SENOMYX’S PATENTED CHEMICAL FLAVOR ENHANCERS

 

Lee Burdett is a food and health blogger:  http://blog.wellfedfamily.net.  Her Summer 2011 WISE TRADITIONS article, “Senomyx:  The Brave New World of Flavor BioEngineering,” follows Sally Fallon Morell’s article “The Salt of the Earth,” discussed in Tipping Points 38.  Both writers are concerned with the substitution of chemicals for real food, and both articles can be found online at the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) web site, which is linked on the right sidebar of this blog.  Morell and the WAPF are really worried about what a chemical substitution for real salt might do to the health of the general population.     

Senomyx, writes Burdett, is a ten-year old publicly traded high-tech research and development company based in San Diego.  Senomyx’s work is “closely related to the pharmaceutical industry….”  Indeed, “the majority of their corporate executives came from Pfizer, Novartis and Merck.”  And “their advisory board is populated by neurobiologists, neuropharmacologists and one Nobel prize-winning chemist.”  Synomyx “achieved an 85 percent increase in profits from 2009 to 2010.”

Why is any of this information important?  Because, explains Burdett, Synomyx is a “new player in the big food processing game.”  Synomyx has developed patented flavor enhancers by using what they call their “proprietary taste receptor-based assay systems.”  These systems allow Senomyx to test “an enormous volume of chemicals” and to determine if a particular chemical concoction is “effective or tasty.”  Once found, Synomyx patents the concoction. 

Synomyx has five flavors in various stages of completion, writes Burdett:  Savory Flavors, Sweet Taste, Salt Taste, Cooling Flavors, and Bitter Blockers.  Senomyx has already patented some savory flavor ingredients  and  some sweet flavor ingredients, including a sucralose enhancer.  The savory flavor ingredients were tested against monosodium glutamate (MSG) and inosine monophosphate (IMP)—which is “an expensive MSG enhancer.”  The sweet flavors were tested against various carbohydrate-based sugars and against artificial sweeteners.   Synomyx is working on  cooling flavors; bitter blockers, which will be used as additives in soy foods as they are “too bitter for most people to eat;” and on salty flavors. 

Synomyx, writes Burdett, has given the name SNMX-29 to “the protein they believe is the primary human salt taste receptor.  Now, they will use their “enormous flavor enhancing library to pinpoint which one stimulates SNMX-29 precisely the way sodium chloride does.”  And, “once this is achieved all that is left is for some company to buy the rights to insert that perfect salt enhancer into a food, replacing the need for much of the sodium currently used.”

Synomyx’s chemical flavors, writes Burdett, “stimulate your taste buds without them actually tasting anything.  This subterfuge fools your brain into thinking you have tasted an intensely sweet or savory (unami) flavor.  Much like MSG, these flavor enhancers operate on the neurological level to produce these reactions.  They bypass normal tasting processes and, because of their ability to react directly with the brain’s receptors, send signals directly to the location in your brain where specific flavors are registered.” 

Synomyx’s chemical flavors have not been tested for safety, explains Burdett, because very small amounts are used.  Thus, these chemicals “have not undergone the FDA’s usual safety approval process for food additives.”  But, science is discovering more and more that small amounts of chemicals are dangerous and that eating small amounts multiple times in a day does add up.    

In addition, the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association (FEMA)—which is an industry-funded organization—granted Senomyx’s MSG-enhancer Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status in “less than eighteen months.”  So, this chemical has been patented and is “already in products on the market.”  Two sweet flavors and two Bitter Blockers have been given GRAS status by FEMA.  As these chemical flavors “are not actually ingredients but rather `enhancers,’ they are not required to be listed in a package’s ingredients except as `artificial flavors.’“  If you are buying packaged foods, likely you’re already eating them.     

The Ajinomoto Group (which mostly operates in China), Cadbury/Kraft, Campbell’s Soup, Firmenich (a Swiss perfume and flavoring company), Solae (soy-based foods), Nestlé, and PepsiCo—all of which have many trade names—are using Senomyx’s flavor enhancers.  For instance, writes Burdett, PepsiCo (which includes the Frito-Lay, Tropicana, Quaker, and Gatorade brands) “recently signed a four-year contract with Senomyx that included a thirty-million dollar up front payment from Pepsi to Senomyx to use their sweet enhancers.”

Burdett notes these sweet chemical flavors can replace 75 percent of sucralose and 50 percent of table sugar.  And, she notes that Synomyx CEO Kent Snyder has cited the need for Synomyx’s salt enhancement program “because salt reduction is such a high priority for food companies and the medical community `due to the association of high salt intake with cardiovascular disease.’ “ 

Yet, we know from Sally Fallon Morell’s article, “The Salt of the Earth,” that salt is “vital to health” and “there is no substitute for salt.”  We know that adequate sodium chloride “must be obtained from salt.”  We know that a 2010 government-funded study published in the “Journal of the American Medical Association” found that “even modest reductions in salt intake are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and death” and that “lower sodium is associated with higher mortality.”

As with all of these food issues, there is a history.  The salt wars, writes Morell, “began in 1972 when the National High Blood Pressure Education Program, a coalition of thirty-six medical organizations and six federal agencies essentially declared that salt was an unnecessary evil.”  Industry was, of course, involved in this erroneous view.  Morell cites the example of Kristin McNutt, who had been hired by the MSG Foundation .  (Decreasing salt increases consumption of artificial flavorings, like MSG.)  McNutt testified before the McGovern Committee hearings that resulted in the demonization of saturated fats and the promotion of highly processed, dangerous vegetable oils.  McNutt said the following in a lecture before the Society for Nutrition Education in the early 1980s:  “ `It’s just like what we did before the McGovern Committee hearings.  In order to get media attention, we said that salt causes high blood pressure.  We knew it wasn’t true but we had to get their attention.” 

Now, low-salt is part of an elaborate belief system supported by misguided groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and many of our government organizations, like the FDA and the USDA, whose 2010 guidelines lower salt intake, writes Morell, to below the “absolute requirement for salt.”  Industry, including the medical industry, will be the only beneficiary of these unscientific decisions.  And, the food industry stands to make even more money if it does not have to pay for actual sugar and salt.

Chemical flavors are pharmaceuticals and as such should be safety tested.  Certainly they should be properly listed on food labels.  Why aren’t they?  Michael Pollan in IN DEFENSE OF FOOD explains that in 1973, the FDA “simply repealed the 1938 rule concerning imitation foods.”  This action opened the regulatory door to all manner of faked food ingredients.  “All it would take now,” writes Pollan, “was a push from the McGovern’s Dietary Goals for hundreds of `traditional foods that everyone know’ to begin their long retreat from the supermarket shelves and for our eating to become more `scientific’ “(34-36). 

So, don’t be afraid of consuming real, Celtic-type salt.  Avoid packaged, processed foods, especially those with a long list of ingredients you can’t pronounce.  Cook, eat, and enjoy meals made from organic, locally grown, nutrient dense foods.  Buy a copy of NOURISHING TRADITIONS if you need help.  An hour making a soup or stew or roasting a chicken yields several nights of meals.  In addition to protecting and nourishing your health, your food will be delicious and fully satisfying.

 

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