The word “Maggi” is synonymous with the concept of the tasty junk-snack to my entire extended family and friends. Many times we have joked about how this unhealthy pack of instant noodles ranks among the most hunger-filling and heavenly-tasting foods — far better than the healthy wholesome food prepared by my mother. Inexplicably, there are many people who haven’t even heard of it.
From what I remember, I began eating Maggi around the age of three. It was a relatively wet evening with the rain pouring with determination and dinner was particularly uninteresting, with all of the ingredients I disliked at that age. And so I did what any toddler would do: I sulked, pleaded and wept for something better. My exasperated mother whipped up a hot bowl of soup with wiggly noodles floating in it. And that’s how Maggi entered my life.
Today, I can’t imagine a life without Maggi; it is my lifeboat when the food on the table is not to my preference or when my stomach growls late at night. It is my mother’s quick-fix solution to a bunch of famished rowdy kids back from school. So imagine how stunned I was upon learning that most of my friends at SAS haven’t even heard about it.
To give the reader a bit of backstory, it’s important to note that Maggi actually wasn’t an instant noodle empire to begin with. The Maggi company came about in 1872, in Switzerland, when Julius Maggi took over his father’s mill. During that time, the industrial revolution was also taking place and so there were many jobs created in the factory for women. With women working long hours in the factory, there wasn’t a lot of time left to prepare food at home. This led the Swiss Public Welfare Society to ask Julius Maggi to create a vegetable food product that was quick to make and easy to digest. The brand “Maggi” was born in response to that request; instant noodles products were introduced almost 80 years later in the 1950’s. Today, the “Maggi” brand is carried by a variety of other products from seasoning sauces, to bouillon cubes, to tomato sauce. In 1947, the Maggi company merged with Nestlé, then finally launched in India in the 1980s, opening the doorway to my home, into my stomach, and straight to my heart.
That’s a long history, you see? So can it really be true that so many of you out there have not been formally introduced to this staple of convenient and tasty dining? Determined to set the record straight, I sent out a survey and received 269 responses. The results follow:
Only 55% of students have ever tasted Maggi noodles, 32.3% have never heard of it, and 12.6% have heard of it but never tasted it.
Upon reflection, it should perhaps have not been surprising that many people at SAS haven’t heard of Maggi. SAS consists of students coming from around 55 countries. And perhaps those countries have their own brands of instant noodle brands that I haven’t ever heard about. On the other hand, third culture kids are expected to have picked up cues from many cultures rather than identifying with just one culture. And in Singapore, Maggi instant noodles are already very popular and readily spotted in every grocery store.
But it’s not just Singapore’s culture that carries Maggi, it’s intensely popular in countries like Malaysia and India. “Maggi mee” (as it’s called there) first came to Malaysia in the form of tomato ketchup and chili sauce in 1969. It was followed slowly by the 2-minute instant Maggi noodles Malaysia loves today. According to Euromonitor.com, in Malaysia, Maggi is synonymous for instant noodles — as common as “Kleenex” could generically refer to a paper tissue.
Maggi’s rise was not always such an easy accomplishment, especially in new territory with an aversion to quick meals. For example, the concept’s launch in India came at a risky period in 1983 when instant noodles weren’t necessarily well known. But the Indian consumers had this fascination with eating Chinese food at restaurants – Nestle company understood this preference and launched Maggi instant noodles with the tagline, “Fast to cook and good to eat”. And that is how an instant noodle snack was born in a culture where noodles are not the staple diet.
Despite its positive attributes, Maggi noodles have suffered from its fair share of controversy. In May, 2015, the Food and Drug Administration in the state of Uttar Pradesh in India found high concentrations of lead (17.2ppm / parts per million) in about two dozen Maggi packets, well above the permissible range of 0.01ppm – 2.5(ppm). Maggi was also said to contain high amount of MSG(monosodium glutamate), a taste enhancer, that has fallen out of fashion with many health organizations.
Nestlé India which manufactures Maggi noodles in India tried to defend themselves stating that they “do not add MSG to Maggi Noodles, and glutamate, if present, may come from naturally occurring sources.” They also claimed to have been “surprised with the lead content supposedly found in the sample” as “they monitor the lead content frequently as mandated by regulatory requirements.” The end result of this public dispute was that Maggi noodles were withdrawn, by Nestle, from the markets in India. Five months later, after clearing additional tests, Maggi noodles ‘rightly’ returned to the shelves where they belong. The Indians’ favorite snack was back.
While some readers may think that this article is a paid endorsement for Maggi, my purpose is only to acknowledge shock at how many SAS students haven’t heard about Maggi. At SAS, we learn that food is an important aspect of every culture – all the more so in Singapore, where the colorful variety of different foods fuels the national passion of the eating experience. Do yourselves a favor and try Maggi noodles at least once while in Singapore. But be forewarned: The day Maggi came into my life, it never left.