Spotlight: The Evils of Maggi (and Recipe for Chicken Broth)

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The Little Brown Cube

Travelling through Egypt this past summer introduced me to some amazing foods.  However, it also introduced me to Maggi.  Every single time (and I am not exaggerating) I asked someone for a recipe of a dish we just devoured, it included a Maggi cube.  We had this awesome rice that was golden brown in color, and dotted with sautéed chicken liver. I had never had it before, but here I was having it at three different family members’ homes. The last time I ate it, I asked how it was made – “oh, it’s simple. Sauté 3 Maggi cubes in samna (ghee) before adding in the rice and…..” GULP. Yes, THREE Maggi cubes. Do you know how bad for you ONE lil’ maggi cube is, let alone three?!

Oh, little brown cube, how nasty you are but how delicious you make food taste! Let me tell you a bit more about the beloved lil’ brown cube. After salt being the first ingredient, meaning the cube is comprised mostly of salt, the second ingredient is hydrogenated palm oil. While we know that partially hydrogenated oil is indeed dangerous to our health (think trans fats), there is debate as to the effect of fully hydrogenated oils. What we do know, is that these fats should be kept to a minimum, if not entirely eliminated. So two ingredients in, and we already find the Maggi cube to be a bit sketchy.

Now let us turn to the third ingredient – what I refer to as the “evil” ingredient – in Maggi: monosodium glutamate, also known as MSG. Have you ever heard of the fifth taste, umami? I first heard of it when watching Top Chef. When MSG was first created and added to food, it could not be described as sweet, salty, sour, or bitter. The world ended up with the new, fifth flavor sense of umami. This flavor generally has no translation, but can only be described as “pleasant,” “brothy,” “meaty,” or “long lasting, mouthwatering and coating sensation over the tongue.” Sounds pretty damn good, huh?

But BEWARE! Consumption of MSG has been linked to everything from migraines, liver inflammation, attention deficits, and even diseases such as fibromyalgia. Further, some people may feel the effects of MSG right away, while others feel a cumulative effect over time. This is the scary part, because the list of foods containing MSG is shocking. Will using one evil-MSG-filled cube of Maggi kill you? No, but using it regularly, over time, coupled with the millions of other products containing MSG surely cannot be good for you. This cannot be good news for the millions across the world that consume Maggi regularly.

The problem here is that the Middle East simply does not sell chicken broth. Here in the UAE, I have never once seen chicken broth sold at the grocery stores, not even at the high end shops. In the United States, I used to happily truck over to Costco and buy a box of 6 cartons of organic chicken broth. I had no idea what a luxury that was. In Abu Dhabi, you see aisles filled with cartons of Maggi with consumers grabbing a carton along with milk and eggs – it has become a staple in Middle Eastern cooking.

ENTER SIMPLE SOLUTION – Make your own broth. It is so easy; it shouldn’t even be called a recipe. It was more of an assembly of sorts – a la Sandra Lee style (although don’t get me started on her “cooking.”).  This recipe uses a small, whole chicken.  After I finished the broth, I pulled off the meat and added it to a biryani.  Additionally, I use a mastic crystal – if you do not have any, you do not need it, but it does add a nice, unique “umami” flavor to the broth (5 points for me for using the word umami in a sentence- ha!). We plan on doing a spotlight post on mastic soon. I also used my trusty pressure cooker – makes life that much more simple.  Now, I know that when you have a recipe that requires chicken broth, it is tempting to reach for the Maggi cube, but try making this and freezing it.  Every time you use homemade broth instead of a Maggi cube, an angel (or your family member) doesn’t get a migraine….

Chicken Broth

Makes 5-6 cups

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes

  • 1 whole, organic chicken (550 grams, or 1.25 lbs)
  • 1/2 large white onion, chopped
  • 1 mastic crystal (optional)
  • 2 cardamom pods
  • 2 tbsp olive oil or ghee
  • 6 cups of water
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice

Spice Mix:

  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper

(1) Rinse chicken under cold water. Rub the 2 tbsp of lemon juice all over the chicken and wash/rinse the chicken well. The lemon juice helps to make sure the chicken is clean.

(2) Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil or ghee in a pressure cooker. Sauté onions with the mastic and cardamom pods.

(3) Once the onions are translucent. Add the entire chicken to the pot. Turn once or twice to get a nice color on the chicken.

SONY DSC

(4) Once the chicken is lightly browned on both sides, add the spices.  Brown again.

(5) Add the 6 cups of water.  Cover. Once the pressure builds, reduce the heat and cook for approximately 20 minutes.

SONY DSC

(6) Follow your pressure cooker’s instructions to release the pressure. Remove the chicken, and you can use a sieve if you prefer clear broth. This recipe yields about 5 cups of broth, which can be frozen as well. It keeps in the refrigerator for about 5 days too. And now you are DONE!! See how simple?

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42 Responses to “Spotlight: The Evils of Maggi (and Recipe for Chicken Broth)”

  1. October 18, 2011 at 8:13 am #

    Such an informative post…man, I’m never gonna be able to look at the jar of maggi cubes in our kitchen the same way again. Thanks for all the insights!

  2. October 18, 2011 at 10:19 am #

    I am quite pro active about not using MSG in foods.. infact allmy friends hate that i rant about it soo much :) Nice post Brenda, nice chicken stock recipe too

  3. October 18, 2011 at 10:48 am #

    Chicken stock is really a great flavour booster. The cubes take less time but yes, there is no substitute for the real thing. We have a recipe for white chicken stock on the bottom of our homepage.

    Maggi has also become a huge part of the Caribbean food scene… so much so that I thought it was a Caribbean company!

    Here is a link http://chefandsteward.com/2011/08/20/free-cooking-class-how-to-make-white-chicken-stock/

  4. October 19, 2011 at 1:46 am #

    Funny and informative post. Salt + MSG are two of those evil foods (or… products?) that are so hard to avoid when dining out, I find. I know that some of my favorite pho or dumpling houses use MSG and yet I find it soooo difficult to tear myself away from them.

    I agree with you 100% that homemade chicken stock is easy and totally worth the extra time than plunking in a dried stock cube. Yours has wonderful color!

  5. October 19, 2011 at 3:10 am #

    I am glad you all found this informative and helpful! As much as the world loves the flavor of a beloved Maggi, I want our readers to think about alternatives before reaching for one. We are all guilty of using one in a pinch, but I am on a mission to reduce the harmful effects of MSG on my family. In the UAE, the entire lil chicken doesnt cost more than $20 DHS ($6 USD), making the 6 cups of broth really cheap and easy to make.

  6. October 19, 2011 at 5:10 am #

    THANK YOU for this post and for pointing out the hazards of using compressed stock cubes! I have been on the same quest to try and convince everyone to make their broth from scratch, and as you pointed out it really isn’t any hard work at all. Home-made broth is not only good for you healthwise (which cannot be underestimated), but it also tastes a thousand years better!! Once you get used to it, you really cannot settle for these compressed stock cubes any more.
    I just, if I may, want to point out the importance of understanding the components of the ready, store-bought foods that we add to our cooking, like these cubes. As you have said Hydrogenated oils are very dangerous! They should not be minimised, but rather avoided at all costs. Hydrogenated oils (present in these cubes as well as all the spreadable butters, and butter substitutes) are responsible for high bad cholesterole levels, blood clots, residue in blood stream, strokes and heart attacks!!
    MSG is the worst chemical out there, it tampers with fluid circulation in body functions, and causes water retention. It is at the end of the day a chemical, an additive, meaning not naturally present.
    Finally, All long-shelf life products in stores have to be checked for inclusion of additives, preservatives and the sorts which are by the way not the healthiest form of food! Why go down that path when we can go fresh? when we can make our own, ingredients of which we know and trust fully. It tastes so much better anyway!
    Thank you for the post, and excuse the long comment, you tapped onto a subject about which I feel very strongly!!

    • October 19, 2011 at 4:39 pm #

      You are awesome, Dima! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. Chickens are so cheap here, making it very economical to make your own broth. If everyone set aside 20 minutes every week to boil a $5 chicken, not only would health improve, but food would taste THAT much better :)

  7. Lena D
    October 23, 2011 at 12:29 am #

    Thank you so much for this post. I learned something new and super important! It terrifies me to think that almost all Syrian rice recipes (at least the easy ones I know how to make) call for that cube of evilness! i’ve always resorted to maggi b/c it’s an easy halal option, especially since I can never find the cans of halal broth around dc. looks like i will be preparing my own broth now :)

    • October 24, 2011 at 12:06 pm #

      Glad you learned something new! I know a lot of people don’t realize just how bad it is for you, especially over time. I heard that HalalCo in Northern Virginia has halal chicken broth, and even if it doesn’t, grab one of their lil chickens and make some broth – you won’t regret it :)

  8. marwa
    November 7, 2011 at 1:41 am #

    Great post. I’d like to add my personal experience and alternative solution to the maggi cube. I grew up in a house where boiled chicken was the only taste I knew of chicken. This is mainly because my mum boiled chicken twice a week for stock. Although we had great tasting rice, stews and soups, I was less appreciative of chicken taste as a meat. You may disagree with me here but the truth is regardless of its nutritional value I don’t find boiled chicken meat that tasty since most of the flavor goes to the stock. and from an economic aspect, I find organic chicken rather expensive to buy every week to end up eating it boiled. Unfortunately this meant that when I started to cook I cooked chicken in all possible way but boil to get the tasty stock so I had to look for alternatives. Ready made chicken broth is one way but it also came with series of additives and there is always the problem with the type of chicken used (farm raised etc.). Since I moved to the US I’ve being looking for alternative products to substitute the broth. I have been using this organic vegetable base made from concentrated vegetables. it gives extra flavor to my food and keeps all the MSGs as far away from my kitchen as possible.

    http://www.superiortouch.com/retail/products/better-than-bouillon

    • November 22, 2011 at 8:55 am #

      Thanks Marwa! I also have issues with “boiled” flavor, and usually stay away from it. However, if you end up with a great spice combo for the stock, the meat can be really versatile for some other Middle Eastern dishes – like molokhiya, or in spinach stews. I just shred all the meat off of the bone after it has cooled to the touch, and then throw it in my dishes. This particular time, I used the meat in a biryani, but you can add it to any rice pilaf. i am glad you found a bouillon that has no MSG, but anything from scratch will be far better, without preservatives or powdered flavorings. if you are in the US, there is a great brand of organic chicken broth that is sold at Costco that is pretty economical, and very tasty. I wish I could import it here to the UAE!

  9. November 8, 2011 at 6:17 am #

    Interesting. I’d no idea Maggi cubes weren’t all that great! Thanks for the information :)

  10. Megha
    November 22, 2011 at 7:47 am #

    A great post and a simple recipie! Here I was thinking, making stock from scratch was stuff of chef legend…:)

    However, I do have one question to ask – where can we buy mastic crystals in Dubai?

    • November 22, 2011 at 8:50 am #

      Hey Megha! Luckily, they are all over the Middle East. I buy mine from a spice shop in Abu Dhabi. I would just ask at any small spice shop for “Mastic” or “Mistika” and they will pull out a small bag for you. They should be small, and relatively clear and cost about 20 dirhams. One small bag will last you at least a year! Usually they are from Greece, but there are some local ones as well. Just be sure you say it is for cooking, because there is one that is for chewing gum (which is different). You could also try at Carrefour at their bulk spice section, but usually they are pre-packaged.

  11. December 15, 2011 at 10:12 pm #

    Great article about Maggi! My mother-in-law (in Syria) uses it literally in every savory dish she makes, just because broth isn’t available in the store. I know she knows how to make chicken stock (she is an amazing cook) but rarely does so because of time constraints (cooking Middle Eastern food is a process!). I will definitely share this with her though. Thanks for such a well-written piece!
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  12. January 26, 2012 at 9:48 pm #

    I found out that if you let the chicken cool for an half an hour after the first browning it works better!

    Mary

  13. reader
    February 26, 2012 at 9:43 am #

    next post…the evils of nestle

    even if maggi cubes were healthy (or at least not so bad for you), there would still be plenty of reasons to not buy them.

  14. martin
    May 26, 2012 at 12:22 pm #

    PREAMBLE – Every time I have heard MSG, discussed in relation to health, I have simply zoned out. Why? Because interested bodies and nutritionists are constantly telling us what is bad for us, only to later make a 180.

    YESTERDAY – Over lunch with colleagues, MSG made its way into the conversation. One person in the group from Tanzania mentioned how MSG is bad for you and in the same breath singled out Ajinomoto. For whatever reason this time, I was paying attention. Perhaps it’s because Ajinomoto was singled out – a popular flavor enhancer that I know. This got me thinking to Google MSG and Maggi cube, Surprise surprise, Maggi has MSG.

    I regularly lob Maggie cubes into my cooking, but based on the articles floating around on the web on the health impact, I’ll definitely cut back. My food will lose some flavor, but that’s OK. I have allowed myself to be convinced this time. I just hope we don’t see a 180 on this one down the road.

    On a lighter note, did you know women from Congo use Maggie cubes to create nice round back sides? http://saharareporters.com/blog-entry/shhhh-maggi-cubes-and-big-bubbly-butts

  15. Rayna
    July 5, 2012 at 8:49 pm #

    I agree with the others about boiling chickens. A better method is to use chicken bones, either left over from other chicken meal (you can collect them in the freezer until you have a good amount) or you can generally get chicken back and breast bones from the butcher for making stocks and soups. In Turkey where I live about half of the time, every butcher sells “çorbal?k”, both chicken and meat for around 1 lira a kilo. Cover the bones with cold water and a splash of vinegar to draw healthy minerals from the bones into the broth. Bring to a boil and simmer an hour or two for chicken and 5-6 hours for meat. Of course you can add onions, salt, etc., but I like to keep it plain to allow for more flexibility in cooking later. I generally try to make up a big pot and then freeze it in smaller containers for quick soups or a tasty addition to rice. Also, if you want clear broth, skim of the foam when the stock is first coming to a boil. — Easy mineral-rich stock without a wasted chicken.

    • July 11, 2012 at 5:04 pm #

      You’re totally right, Rayna! I actually purchase high-quality bones (from grass-finished organically-raised animals) and make bone broth every week. I’ll write a post about it soon on my other blog, My Life in a Pyramid :) Super nutritious, very affordable, and really tasty!

  16. Janet
    July 17, 2012 at 8:34 am #

    Thank you for pointing out the hazards of Maggi and also Knorr. Even in the U.S., College Inn Chicken Broth but not Swanson’s has MSG. So does good old Campell’s Soup! My husband and I are both sensitive because we get migraines. When we worked in Kabul in a compound, my husband especially was getting headaches and finally raided the kitchen there. They were using lots of gravy mixes, all with MSG. I must admit I use a low sodium bouillon mix but it has no MSG. I live in Aqaba, Jordan and I make an easy vegetable broth from Deborah Madison’s cookbook. My chicken broth is always boring and never seems to make enough. My husband also has to watch his sodium intake so all those cubes are bad. I did find a low sodium, non MSG cube by Knorr in Amman but it disappeared. Sometimes, I just need to pop something in a dish and I don’t have time for homemade. I would love to have a source for inexpensive non-MSG chicken broth here in Jordan. I used to put cases of it in my shipment.

    • July 23, 2012 at 12:56 pm #

      glad you enjoyed the post! i just found an organic chicken broth here in abu dhabi. i am sure they ordered it by mistake and it will be gone for good in a few days!

      • Janet
        July 24, 2012 at 3:11 am #

        I did find my precious Swanson’s chicken broth in Amman but it was about $7! Maybe for a Thanksgiving dinner I would splurge,,,They do have the organic ones, too, for even higher prices. Time to get the pot out and try boiling chicken again.

  17. kayla
    August 8, 2012 at 12:47 am #

    Please do more research on msg/umami before writing about food. Monosodium gluteamate is a natural chemical reaction that happens when you cook good food and “umami” has been around since long before they figured out how to bottle it. All french cooking has it as well as any decent hamburger. All food at five star restaurants contains it. It is harmful in a processed form, but don’t call it evil and don’t play it off the the japanese are out to trick.

  18. Sarah
    March 31, 2013 at 10:47 am #

    I have a query, what becomes of the chicken boiled as such–can we consume it? will it be stripped of all nutrients?

    • March 31, 2013 at 11:02 am #

      Actually, I use the chicken for pretty much anything! I often shred it and toss it with corn and butter, serving over rice to my kids. I have also shredded it and added it to a biryani type of rice, spiced with curry and turmeric.

  19. September 10, 2013 at 1:41 pm #

    Thank you for your chicken broth recipe. I have a small basket of chicken maggi next to my stove top and use it frequently for molokhia, maglooba and all the rice I prepare. I have been telling myself it could not be good and that I needed to find a healthy alternative. I look forward to preparing and freezing for future use. My little basket is almost empty and I have no intentions of refilling with the cubes!

    • Heba
      January 13, 2014 at 12:32 am #

      Hi Sherri, great to hear you’re getting rid of Maggi! Hope the homemade broth is working well for you.

  20. Dina
    December 21, 2013 at 11:28 pm #

    Straight to the point and very insightful!

    Us Kuwaitis go through boxes of maggi super fast as well! I thought that maggi was extremely processed so it must have harmful effects. Nevertheless, i love its umami taste! (another 5 points for me using the word in a sentence!) So i wanted a recipe that tastes the same. My exact google search was:”how to make fresh chicken broth that tastes like maggi chicken broth cubes,” and your link was the first that popped up.

    Can’t wait to try the recipe!!
    Thank you!!

    • Heba
      January 13, 2014 at 12:19 am #

      Hi Dina – I hope the fresh chicken broth satisfied the umami taste :) For a little extra, add some unrefined salt. That always helps; and besides, it’s probably the number one ingredient in Maggi, hah! Unrefined salt doesn’t have to be Himalayan though that’s probably the most common variety in stores. Unrefined is mineral-rich and not bleached white as most table salt is… Bon apetit!

  21. Colin Williams
    December 24, 2013 at 5:09 pm #

    Where is the scientific proof that MSG is linked to all those ailments? It’s all just anecdotal.

    • Heba
      January 13, 2014 at 12:16 am #

      Anecdotal evidence can be very powerful.

  22. Nadia
    June 1, 2014 at 6:39 pm #

    Thanks for this info. Important we ask questions and get to know our food and how it’s made.

  23. Nina
    June 1, 2014 at 10:13 pm #

    Hey Brenda. Thanks for this article, indeed we use Maggi way too much back home… I grew up however with the recipe you shared, with the addition of wara2t lawry, then you use the broth from the chicken to cook the rice. This was cooked daily in our household except during lent/fasting times. The only trouble for me when I came of age and was introduced to the farargy (the chicken slayer =) was I couldn’t stomach handling an actual chicken…In fact, after that experience, I wouldn’t eat chicken for a whole year. So the idea of handling an actual chicken (and cleaning its insides) is a bit of a nightmare for me… alternatives to handling an actual chicken are welcome…(why does the chicken look like its on a diet? =)

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