My husband went to the grocery store last night to return a box of appetizers he had purchased. It seems they were on the huge list of products (thousands) recently recalled by the Food and Drug Administration because of possible salmonella contamination. The salmonella is feared to be in an ingredient called Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (otherwise known as HVP or acid-HVP).
As of Monday, no illnesses had been reported in connection with this recall, but the FDA is still urging people to not eat any of the recalled products to be on the safe side. To see a list of affected products, click here to view the FDA list.
Here’s what I want to know: What is HVP and why are we eating something that sounds like an STD? I went searching for a definition, which wasn’t easy to find at a reliable source. I did locate a transcript of a conference call between FDA officials and the media, but the only description of HVP in the call was:
“This hydrolyzed vegetable protein ingredient is a widely used flavor enhancer in the food industry used in items such as soups, cheese, sauces, hot dogs, frozen dinners, snack foods, dips, and dressings and so forth.”
Hmmm. OK, but WHAT IS IT? The Wikipedia definition was icky, but I don’t trust Wikipedia. Finally, after reading a half-dozen articles in publications like the Chicago Tribune and the L.A. Times that didn’t really tell me how HVP is made, I noted that a Canadian reporter had called a scientist and basically confirmed the Wikipedia definition. Here’s an excerpt from her story in the Montreal Gazette:
BEGIN EXCERPT: Additive manufacturers including Basic Food Flavors, Inc., the Nevada-based company at the centre of the HVP recall, start out with vegetable scraps or soy extracts.
They are boiled in hydrochloric acid, then neutralized with sodium hydroxide. The acid breaks down the protein into amino acids, one of which is glutamic acid, more commonly known in the form of its sodium salt, monosodium glutamate or MSG.
HVP contains all the amino acids making up the protein, but glutamic acid is the effective flavour enhancer, said Keith Warriner, food science professor at the University of Guelph.
“What used to be used is just pure glutamic acid, usually called monosodium glutamate, because that’s what gives products that sort of meaty flavour. But it’s a bit expensive to produce.”
Warriner chalked up the emergence of HVP as the go-to flavour enhancer in food processing to the drive to keep food costs down while delivering intensively flavoured items. END EXCERPT
So, call me paranoid, but it sounds like HVP is a sneaky way for companies to put MSG in their products without having to list it on the label. And when I read the conference call transcript, it indicated that the salmonella was found in the vegetable products BEFORE they were boiled in hydrochloric acid. That ought to make us all feel better.