Sunday, 19 September 2010

A Little Synthetic Chilli With Your Cereal Anyone?

Updated on 9 December 2010

This is not easy and I doubt I will do it again because I doubt it is worthwhile. But this application is a good example of the fact that the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has very little to do with real food.

The article below was my response to the public consultation on the application for adding a synthetic version of dihydrocapsaicin (DHC) to various food products. An update on the application is now available on the FSA website.

I raised several issues, the main one being that this ingredient was not a food or food ingredient, but a pharmacological (or medicinal) substance. Clarification was sought of the purpose of adding DHC to foods, and specifically, the pharmacological and nutraceutical effects of DHC or its metabolites.

The applicant responded that the purpose of adding this synthetic ingredient to food is to give the consumer a “feeling of refreshment or well being”. “It is intended for individuals seeking to gain enjoyment that can result from chilli consumption but without suffering from the strong hot taste.” This does not add anything whatsoever to what is stated in the application. I have set out the intended purpose of the ingredient below, which in summary is mainly for foods directed at overweight consumers. I suspect that this feeling of well being from eating food with DHC will cause increased eating rather than lessen it!

Neurological effects were mentioned as follows (and I realise it may come across as gibberish to most readers, but that is the point really):

“The applicant states that DHC only has local sensory effects and these mediated via the TRPV-1 receptors on the surface of the GI tract, from the buccal cavity along the length of the gut. The applicant does however state that local activation of TRPV-1 receptors by DHC can impact both brown and white adipose sympathetic receptors through stimulation of the vagus afferent nerve and the sympathetic nervous system but not the heart.”

When people discuss food in this type of language, it truly makes me worried.  And, would it be so difficult to add a line in translation for the average consumer wanting to know what is going on?  It makes me wonder if they know what is going on!

As a by the way, I recently became aware that Ajinomoto, the applicant herein, has been in business quite a long time. They produce the flavour enhancer monosodium glutamate (MSG) which they patented in Japan in 1909! In his book Eat Right 4 Your Metabolic Type, Dr Cass Ingram says in no uncertain terms that MSG is a hormone disrupter. This causes an imbalance which in certain individuals would contribute to weight gain. Meanwhile, I know that DHC is not the solution or even a minute part of one.  Why do we have to put up with this?

Photo credit Ajinomoto also claims to be a part of the sustainability solution, which is on a par with its claim to be able to assist obese people with DHC.

D “Happy” C

The following was my response to the Food Standards Agency's consultation on the application by Ajinomoto Co., Inc. (Anjinomoto) to market its product as a novel food ingredient in the UK (see FSA link).  The product is a synthetic version of dihydrocapsaicin (DHC), a capsaicinoid found in chilli peppers. I give a brief description of DHC and its effects on humans. I then refer to current law with the argument that DHC is not a food, food ingredient or even a food additive. I argue that DHC is probably best classed as a medicinal product. And finally, I analyse the intended use of this chemical in the proposed common food categories. As an afterthought, I have also brought the negative ecological and societal costs into the equation. Based on my findings and analysis, I come to the conclusion that this application should be rejected.

Chilli Peppers

Ajinomoto gives us information about chilli peppers at III.1, but I will add a few other facts. The active ingredient of chilli peppers is mainly the capsaicinoid capsaicin (66%) which is followed by the capsaicinoid dihydrocapsaicin (22%). Hot chilli peppers are an irritant for humans who are the only mammal that eat them. A burning sensation or a sharp, stinging bite is experienced with contact of a capsaicinoid on any tissue, and is used in pepper spray as a mammal deterrent. The capsaicinoids were designed by nature to work as an anti-fungal agent and deter mammals from eating the seeds because they would crush them. Birds do not sense the heat from capsaicin or crush the seeds when eating them and are thereby able to serve the function of dispersing the seeds.

Effects of Chilli Peppers

As pointed out by Ajinomoto, people have been using chilli peppers for a long time in many countries. Possibly one reason for its popularity is similar to that for the popularity of tobacco, another nightshade plant. Lots of people already know this as there was a Simpsons episode on it, but here is some information on the effects of capsaicinoids when eaten:

According to Dr. Frank Etscorn, who holds the first patent on the nicotine patch, “Endorphins are released into our brain when we eat hot peppers. Like other psychotropics including peyote, coca, and marijuana, chili peppers alter our state of consciousness. Many of us crave hot spicy foods, and we may even get slightly strung out, but it's no big deal.”

This explains the psychology of hot pepper eaters who thrive on the strong stimulation of the capsaicin. They crave the combination of pleasure and pain that appears to bring on a higher state of consciousness. The endorphins and other physical sensations that flood the brain when a chile addict bites into a hot pepper, instantly overwhelms the senses. This phenomenon has been described by doctors as a true ‘rush’.
Marketing of DHC in America

Under 2.1 of the application, Ajinomoto mentions that an extract from CH-19 Sweet chilli pepper which contains capsaicinoids is marketed as a food supplement in America and Japan as Capsiate Natura™. I looked up Capsiate Natura™ and found that it is available in the US only in New York and only through healthcare professionals. It is produced by Ajinomoto and sold as a natural dietary supplement in the form of a softgel capsule.

Under 2.2.1, Ajinomoto gives evidence that America has made a determination that DHC is safe, but does not give any reference to a food product that contains it. The only reference is to the dietary supplement as noted above.

Capaisin has also been used in the United States in a pepper nasal spray. This product is medicinal as it claims to relieve headaches, nasal congestion and gives the user a burst of energy.

Is DHC a Food Ingredient?

Under 2.2.2, Ajinomoto makes claims to support that DHC is a food ingredient, but gives no details. This is a very important point because if it is not a food ingredient, it cannot be considered under Regulation (EC) 257/98. The evidence in the application does not support the conclusion. Article 2 of Regulation (EC) 178/2002 gives us the definition of food and food ingredient. Although chilli peppers are reasonably expected to be ingested by humans, DHC, in its isolated form, is not. Furthermore, ‘food’ does not include medicinal products, narcotics or psychotic substances, residues or contaminants. DHC can arguably be classed under these categories, but certainly not food.

At best, DHC can be classed as a medicinal product geared for weight management. For this purpose, I give definitions here from the web at :
Medicinal substance
Any substance or combination of substances presented for treating or preventing disease in human beings. Any substance or combination of substances which may be used in or administered to human beings either with a view to restoring, correcting or modifying physiological functions by exerting a pharmacological, immunological or metabolic action, or to making a medical diagnosis.

Medicinal product
Any matter irrespective of origin e.g., human, animal, vegetable or chemical, which may be: human blood products, microorganisms, toxins, plants and plant extracts, naturally occurring chemical materials and chemical products obtained by chemical change or synthesis.
At the very least, evidence of the claim that the Czec Republic, France, the US and Japan have classified this chemical as a food should be obtained before considering the application further.  The claim that Capsiate Natura™, is a food supplement is erroneous because food supplements add nutritional value to a normal diet, e.g., Vitamin C tablet.  However, the claim that Capsiate Natura™ is a dietary supplement is accurate because it is a diet pill - a pill designed to help with weight loss, much the same as Fenphedra which is advertised as giving users a feeling of a “Happy” sensation or Phenpehdrine which give users a feeling of a “Natural High” while suppressing appetite and increasing the overall feeling of well being.

Ajinomoto claims at XI.1 that DHC is “nutritionally equivalent to the natural product and has negligible nutritional value.” However, DHC, whether in its natural form or synthetic version, does not add calories or any nutritional benefit whatsoever and cannot contribute to the sustenance of life.

Proposed Use of DHC

Ajinomoto states that DHC “can improve energy expenditure and fat oxidation, which can have a role in weight management.” Besides making a profit, this is Ajinomoto’s purpose of marketing DHC as an additive to food products. At IX.1 Ajinomoto has identified the use of DHC primarily in baked goods, beverages, confectionery, cereals and desserts food categories. These categories are hardly the type of foods that overweight people should be eating and this additional chemical may be counterproductive in that it may make them eat more because of the addictive quality of DHC. Also, there is no control over who buys these products or how much they consume.

Ajinomoto claims that portions/servings will be limited to 3mg, but how will this be ensured especially when third parties will be dispensing DHC through various products? Also, is it not a substantial jump to go from a typical daily intake of DHC of approximately 0.01 to 0.06 mg/kg bw/day to 3mg?

Human Costs

Because DHC is an irritant to humans, processing the chemical may also pose risks to the workers including adverse health conditions resulting from contact with body tissues. Employees should be required to wear protective goggles, respirators, and have hazardous material handling procedures to follow in order to avoid skin contact, eye contact, ingestion, and inhalation. Is this the type of employment we seek to encourage in the food industry? Do the end products justify the means?

Another area of concern is that DHC may cause allergic reactions to consumers, especially to those who are taking medications that have been shown to adversely interact with capsaicinoids.  Ajinomoto has dismissed this possibility, but I have seen evidence to the contrary.

Obesity is a serious problem in the world today. It is also a growing trend (no pun intended). DHC is to be marketed for the purpose of being a part of the solution to this problem. No clear evidence has been given by Ajinomoto to support this. If one looks at the facts, it can be seen that DHC is a drug which when added to the proposed food categories may cause addiction and further consumption of foods that contribute to obesity. At the very least, advertising of these products with the addition of DHC as a part of a weight management program will be misleading. DHC will not help with weight loss and it will cause more problems through its manufacture and distribution.

Environmental Costs

Processing DHC requires the use of natural resources. Even if Ajinomoto proposes to process the chemical abroad, I still think it is important for us to consider these costs. Stainless steel vats are required for processing. These need to be constructed, transported, housed and maintained to a sterile standard. Aluminium pouches are needed for refrigeration to -20°C which uses electricity. Once produced, DHC needs to be kept refrigerated and will only have a shelf life of one year. How will the unused DHC be disposed of and what effects will this concentrated substance have on the environment? Regardless of where DHC is processed, there will be packaging and transport costs which will have an adverse impact on the environment. Is the ecological footprint of this product cost effective?


DHC is a non-essential chemical component taken from a food and synthetically reproduced for the proposed purpose of aiding in weight management. It is neither a food nor food ingredient as it has no caloric or nutritional value. It does not fall within the category of food additives either. Because of its intended use and the fact that it is not a food, food ingredient or food additive, it is at best a medicinal product. Also, it is mildly addictive and may have psychotic effects and cause allergic reactions. Finally, it is mainly to be added to products that contain sugar which will increase the effect of temporary mood elevation, not unlike that obtained from marihuana which is illegal or caffeine which is a legal psychoactive substance.


Based on the above, this application should be rejected. The Government may be prudent to consider DHC and capsaicin as isolated chemicals for internal use by humans in more detail and determine whether or not they are to be legal on some other basis.

Moreover, if DHC is to be considered as a food ingredient, this application should still be rejected on the basis that DHC will be hard to regulate, monitor and enforce limits; will be unfit for purpose as an additive to sugary foods; and generally, will not contribute to the health and well-being of UK citizens or the earth’s environment.

Photo 2 credit