January 04, 2011

The New Flavor Enhancer

Nature's Own Way to Make Your Food Tastier (1955, 24 pages) is a small booklet that was published to promote Ac'cent flavor enhancer. At the time of publication, Ac'cent was the most widely available brand of monosodium glutamate (MSG) sold in the United States.

Although I don't wish to embark on a debate about the evils of MSG, or lack thereof, the current controversey concerning it's impact on one's health is precisely what makes the booklet so interesting to me, and hopefully, to you.

In 1955, convenience (processed) foods were considered our friends rather than the enemy. The manufacturer wanted everyone to know that this product was available and widely used. Today, monosodium glutamate is hidden on the food labels under a variety of different names, with the hope that we won't know it's there.

Currently a subsidiary of B & G Foods, Inc., a short summary of the history of the brand is found here:

The origins of Ac'cent flavor enhancer actually can be traced back 2,000 years to the Far East, where the use of glutamate, discovered in the process that converted soya bean meal to soya sauce, was first introduced. During World War I, potash, used in munitions, was in great demand and manufactured from the byproducts of the beet sugar industry. According to legend, a Detroit beet sugar mill owner searched for a new use of beet sugar after the war and discovered that it could provide a plentiful supply of glutamate. A factory to manufacture glutamate opened in 1936, and by 1949 the flavor enhancer began to be sold in grocery stores. Created from glutamate, Ac'cent has no flavor of its own; rather, it compensates for the loss of glutamate in processed food, thus restoring flavor.

I enjoyed reading this article, which also contains an interesting story about the early use of MSG in the U.S.:

The product took off, immediately, and within a few years Ajinomoto (which was now the company's name) was selling MSG across Asia. The breakthrough to America came in the aftermath of World War Two. Like pizza and vermouth, MSG was a taste American soldiers brought home with them. They weren't aware that MSG was what they'd liked in Japan - but the US Army catering staff noticed that their men enjoyed the leftover ration packs of the demobilised Japanese Army much more than they did their own, and began to ask why.

MSG arrived in America at a key moment. Mass production of processed food was booming. But canning, freezing and pre-cooking have a grave technical problem in common - loss of flavour. And MSG was a cheap and simple additive that made everything taste better. It went into tinned soups, salad dressings, processed meats,
carbohydrate-based snacks, ice cream, bread, canned tuna, chewing gum, baby food
and soft drinks. As the industry progressed, it was used in frozen, chilled and
dehydrated ready meals. MSG is crucial in no-fat or low-fat food, where natural
flavour is lost with the extraction of oils.

This booklet was published about six years after Ac'cent began selling in the grocery stores. It's purpose was to familiarize consumers with the brand and the virtues of the product. It does a nice job. The twenty-four pages are packed with various persuasive techniques designed to compel one to purchase Ac'cent. I can't imagine that most housewives didn't rush right down to the store to buy some after reading this booklet.

The manufacturer educates the consumer by providing basic information about the product and it's uses. One example, "Here is how Ac'cent works," is shown below.

Also covered are:

  • You can use Ac'cent with all foods (except desserts and baked sweet goods),
  • Ac'cent is not a seasoning, salt, or a flavoring,
  • Ac'cent is easy to use,
  • Ac'cent is economical,
  • Your family will be delighted,
  • Try this simple taste test,
  • Some helpful hints for cooking with Ac'cent,
  • Some special uses for Ac'cent,
  • For salt-limited diets, and
  • For softfood diets.
They employed the use of customer testimonials "from thousands of letters" they claimed to have received. There are three pages of consumer testimonials. Interesting how the entire names and addresses of the letter writers were printed. That wouldn't be acceptable today.

If one needed further convincing, then perhaps one could be persuaded by celebrity-type testimonials, in this case chefs who held impressive positions in famous restaurants and organizations. There are two pages of these.

    Then there's the suggestion that if the food producers and manufacturers use MSG, then it must be good for us to use it too. The statement "More than 2,500 items now use monosodium glutamate," is quite interesting since practically every processed food item on the shelf today contains this ingredient and that 1955 figure has increased to approximately 45,000 to 50,000.

    If consumers weren't won over by these selling points, then maybe a glimpse of the company facilities might do the trick. This was probably a holdover from earlier in the century when manufacturers sought to ease consumer fears about the sanitation and cleanliness of the large, newly emerging food processing plants.

    Don't be caught with "old," outdated cookbooks. New, modern cookbooks call for the ingredient we're selling!

    In case your cookbook collection wasn't quite up to snuff, Ac'cent offered these two cookbooks by mail which could be used to help bring you out of the dark ages.

    The last page of the booklet shows the four sizes of Ac'cent that were available for home use in 1955. There is also an offer for a "Third Shaker Set," which had a special shaker for Ac'cent to go along with the salt and pepper shakers. They had bright red caps and lettering to match the Ac'cent product package. These shakers were available for $1.25. You can still find the Ac'cent seasoning shaker ocassionally for sale as an advertising collectible on Ebay.


    At 8:54 PM CST, Anonymous Lt. Sanders said...

    I love reading your blog. I collect these wonderful little 'food compant cookbooks' too. I have thousands of them and you almost always hit ones I don't have, inspiring me to go get more!

    At 11:03 PM CST, Blogger Kathy said...

    Welcome--and thanks for reading. I find it's almost impossible for me to pass them by when I see them. When I started out, I had no idea there were so many!


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