According to some of the best cooks in town, African locust beans are healthier additions to dishes than available seasoning cubes in the markets.
As questionable as their claims may seem, some nutritionists, cardiologists, appear to support such views.
Some are of the view that processed food seasoning products can be harmful to consumers’ health.
Mrs Elizabeth Ojewa, who sells African locust beans (popularly known as Ogiri) in Oyingbo market, Ebute-Metta area of Lagos State, is one of those who prefer African locust beans in home kitchens, dishes.
According to her, Ogiri, as a preferred kitchen seasoning choice, is better and healthier than processed seasoning products.
This, she said, is in spite of some consumers’ preferences for close substitutes at home and at popular fast food restaurants in parts of Lagos State.
“Ogiri is very nice. It is the original seasoning our ancestors were using to cook before processed seasoning cubes were introduced to us. It is very popular in Africa. It did not disturb their health.
“Among our people, it is called Dawadawa in Hausa land, the Yoruba call it Iru, and it is called Ogiri or Okpei in Igbo. It has a good taste and flavour that make your to food delicious.
“You can use it to cook any kind of soup, including Banga soup (Ofe Akwu), Ogbono and vegetable soup and Jollof rice etc.’’
Ojewa, who is not a food specialist or nutritionist, however, went further to advise people to use it (ogiri) instead of processed seasoning cubes because it is good for the body.
According to her, local food seasoning alternative (ogiri) “contains Vitamin A which is good for the eyes and for a clear vision’’
“It is especially recommended for the elderly because of its health benefits over cubed seasonings. Also, it is very affordable. ‘’
She also said: “You can buy a reasonable quantity for just N100 and use it three or four times depending on the quantity you used at a time.
“Some of my customers even buy and send it to their people in London.’’
Similarly, Ojewa’s colleague and neighbour, who sought to be addressed simply as Sister Testimony, supported her opinion on African locust beans.
“You can use this ingredient for all Nigerian soups, either Igbo soup or Calabar soup or Yoruba soup or Bini soup; any soup at all, including Hausa soup.
“You can blend it or just mash it, it will melt, before you add it to your soup. This dawadawa or ogiri is our native seasoning from the olden days; if you want to make your soup as rich as our native soup, use this one.
“Those cubed seasonings are artificial! If you add okpei and some crayfish to your soup, you will not need any other processed food seasoning again,’’ Sister Testimony said.
However, if, indeed, ogiri seasoning is healthier with more mouth-watering flavour and taste in foods than processed seasoning cubes, why do people mostly prefer processed food seasonings than local seasoning products?
Can the local seasoning’s colour, fragrance, packaging or availability influence such choices?.
Ojewa also blamed some Nigerians for not preferring or not making ogiri a seasoning choice for their culinary activities.
She said: “Most Nigerians are quickly attracted to foreign products regardless if it is not good for them. That is why they are opting for the processed cubed seasonings; just because it is foreign and because they like sweet things.
“They want their soup to be sweet and tasty, so they add too much quantity, but they don’t know the dangers in the cubes and they don’t know about the health benefits of okpei. Those who know its value used to buy it from us.
“Some people used to come from outside Nigeria to buy it because they know its value. It has a different taste and aroma and contains many health benefits.
“When there was no Maggi, our ancestors used ogiri to cook their meals and they liked it.”
Ojewa, was, however, of the opinion that if ogiri seasoning is branded or packaged in wrapped cubes form, its preference by people would be optimised and its market value would soar than is the case now.
“They will be encouraged to choose it instead of the processed seasoning cubes. But then, they will want to add additives and preservatives to it in the process of branding it, thereby contaminating it.
“Whereas, it does not necessarily need preservatives in order to last long. If dried well, it can last for more than six months or more without any preservatives,’’ she said.
According to available literature, food is very essential for humans for the simple reason that it engenders growth, development, medication and survival.
To a large extent, spices and seasonings constitute part of our daily food intake in Nigeria. But at the level of preservation for lasting taste and flavour, are they all really safe for our health? What health benefits or possible dangers do we get from these seasonings?
Another popular additive found in almost every prepared food is the Monosodium Glutamate (MSG).
According to healthline.com article “8 Foods That Contain MSG’’, MSG is one of the most controversial food additives approved for use by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
“This popular additive has been deemed ‘generally recognised as safe’ (GRAS) by the FDA, though some experts argue that it can have potentially dangerous side effects, particularly when consumed on a long-term basis.
“The FDA mandates that MSG must be labeled by its usual name of monosodium glutamate when used as an ingredient in food. Foods that naturally contain MSG, such as tomato products, protein isolates and cheeses, aren’t required to list MSG as an ingredient”, the article stated.
Also, healthline.com, in an article, stated that foods containing MSG included fast food (which is one of the best-known sources of MSG, particularly Chinese food).
Others are chips, snack foods and seasoning blends, frozen meals, soups, processed meat, condiments and instant noodles products.
Mrs Adewumi Olufunmilola, Assistant Chief Nutritionist at the Orile Agege General Hospital, Lagos, among others also identified the health benefits and possible dangers of modern cooking seasoning as well as indigenous seasoning including the African locust beans.
“Modern food seasoning cubes contain a degree of MonoSodium Glutamate which is the sodium salt of glutamic acid used in cooking as a flavour enhancer.
“It is made from sodium of glutamic acid of amino acids from protein which adds sweet, sour and meaty taste to food.
“The MSG has excitatory neurotransmitters which help in transmitting and receiving information from nerve cells in the brain, contributing to learning and memory performance of humans.
“They play an important role in the process of digestion, absorption, metabolism and other physiological functions through activation of the brain,’’ she said.
In an article from Reuters titled ‘MSG Linked To Weight Gain’, researchers also found that people who eat more MSG were more likely to be overweight or obese and the increased risk was not simply because people were stuffing themselves with MSG-rich foods.
“The link between high MSG intake and being overweight held even after accounting for the total number of calories people ate,’’ it state.
Olufunmilola, however, would not say that MSG was responsible for gaining weight and obesity in adults as proposed by Reuters.
She said: “MSG has been found to reduce weight gain and fat deposition’’.
According to her, a study by Yamamoto et al, 2009, established improved nutrition in the elderly.
She said: “MSG facilitates the flow of sodium, calcium and potassium in and out of the cell. It may have therapeutic potential for improving the function of the infant gut.
“Recent studies suggested that MSG can influence the maturity of the poorly developed gastric mucosa, thus reducing feeding intolerance in premature infants.
“It helps the gut function as an important energy substrate, boosts the immune system and other essential processes especially in stress.’’
Explaining the nutrients of African locust beans on the other hand, Olufunmilola said: “African locust beans are legumes that have been known as therapeutic foods containing antioxidants for detoxifying the body.
“Iru is a rich source of tannins which is used in treatment of gastrointestinal diseases and ulcers. Due to its probiotic content, it helps to suppress diarrhoea.
“It contains more carotenoids than the commonly consumed foods such as yellow maize, plantains, carrots and mango.
“It also promotes good sight and helps to manage hypertension. The soluble fibre it contains enhances weight loss and controls blood sugar levels.’’
She also assessed the acceptability for either of the two independent cooking seasonings, adding that “Modern food seasoning cubes cannot be replaced with African locust beans because both have their unique roles in human life’’.
“MSG has been proven to activate the brain positively by improving both learning and memory performance, especially in terms of stress.
“Recent study has shown that MSG doesn’t produce appreciable increase in glutamate concentration in the blood except when consumed in excess of normal intake levels.
“This is due to the fact that the blood brain barrier effectively restricts the passage of glutamate from the blood into the brain implying that MSG doesn’t lead to increase in brain glutamate concentration.
“MSG does not produce functional disruptions in brain (Fernstrom et.al. 2018) and therefore no linkage of MSG to long-term serious problem in the general public.
“It is recognised as safe food addictive (GRAS). This indicated that under normal dietary conditions, most of the dietary glutamate (MSG) is either metabolised or oxidised to carbon dioxide by the gut.
“A standard cube of modern food seasoning cubes is four grammes with trace quantities of MSG. Using in moderation should not pose any harm.’’
According to her, junk foods like pastries, fried foods in our daily consumption can cause health hazards such as headache, sweating, facial pressure or tightness, numbness, tingling or burning in the face, neck and other areas of the body.
“They are known to cause heart palpitations, chest pain, nausea, weakness, heart failure, high blood pressure, hypertension, stroke, anxiety, stress etc. Modern food seasoning cubes and African locust beans have their unique benefits,’’ Olufunmilola said.
Consumers make choices over these commodities for personal reasons.
For Mrs Jideonwo Angela, a trader In Oyingbo market, who cooks her family meals with processed seasoning cubes, credibility, general acceptability and longevity of seasoning brands in markets and homes, inform her choice of seasoning.
“Actually, there are a lot of seasonings in the market. But from what we do read in the papers and in the news, they said that some of them are harmful.
“Because of that, I stick to the ones which are readily acceptable, especially the old ones which have withstood competition from other brands.
“Therefore, I use processed seasoning cubes mostly because, having been in use in Nigeria for decades, they must be good products.
“They have gained credibility and durability. The manufacturers wouldn’t want to lose the reputation and trust they have built in the consumers after these years.
“They will maintain the quality of the product. However, my switching from Maggi to Knorr and vice versa is due to cost.
“In any case, I use it in moderation. And in most cases, to minimise the quantity of salt intake as advised by the doctor, I don’t use salt at all when I use Maggi because it also contains salt,’’ Angela said.
A Consultant Cardiologist, Dr Ramon Moronkola, told NAN that it was important for Nigerians to cut down their intake of seasonings to reduce risks of having cardiovascular diseases.
Moronkola, who works with the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), said that salt, a major component of most processed seasonings, was a very high risk factor for cardiovascular diseases including hypertension, stroke, heart attack, liver failure among others.
Quoting from reports made available by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Moronkola said that cardiovascular diseases remained the main cause of death globally.
He also decried the rate of sudden deaths among Nigerian adults, attributing the development to accumulation of excessive cholesterol and salt; which would have started building up when they were growing up.
The cardiologist emphasised that salt reduction was a preventive and treatment measure to cardiovascular diseases particularly hypertension and stroke.
“Unfortunately, when doctors advise people to cut down on salt intake; they end up reducing salt, and consuming more of processed food seasoning.
“This is not advisable because processed food seasonings and salt are the same; if you are asked to avoid salt it means you are invariably advised to cut down on their intake too.
“The intake of highly salted food, saturated fat, high consumption of alcohol, smoking, hard drugs and lack of exercise were various lifestyles which could lead to cardiovascular/heart-related diseases,” Moronkola said.
He also advised people to reduce intake of fried foods, hydrogenated oil, sweets, highly- processed carbohydrate from refined white wheat flour use for making cakes, chin-chin and doughnut.
According to the cardiologist, consumption of fried meat and saturated fat can easily increase cholesterol level that can result to blood clot.
Moronkola said: “Clotted particles in the blood can block a blood vessel in the brain or heart which are the organs with the smallest blood vessels, hence leading to a stroke or heart attack.
“Some of such attacks may not be redeemable and fatal. People should guard against eating food with high cholesterol content.’’
He said that a survey had indicated high rate of distress calls on stroke related issues at festive activities, parties adding that people should always consume meals that would not put their health at risk.
He, therefore, called on event planners and organisers to prioritise health of the attendees when making provision for delicacies and drinkables.
“People should not expose food items that increase cholesterol level and blood pressure during parties and festivities,’’ he said.
The cardiologist called on the Federal Government to intensify regulation and monitoring of food processing as well as the usage of processed food seasoning by food sellers, companies and fast food eateries.