The amino acid L-Glutamate is one of the most abundant and important amino acids of proteins. It is found in all foods that contain protein, such as cheese, milk, mushrooms, meat, fish, and many vegetables. The natural flavour-enhancing levels of glutamate in food varies greatly, but are high in foods such as tomatoes, mushrooms, soy sauce and fish sauce.
Monosodium glutamate, abbreviated as MSG, was discovered more than a century ago by the Japanese scientist Kikunae Ikeda, who gave this unique taste the name “umami”, the fifth taste beside sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Today, MSG is mostly produced by a natural fermentation process that has been used for centuries to make such common foods as beer, vinegar and yogurt.
Are MSG or glutamate unsafe?
Leading international food authorities have confirmed MSG is safe to use in food under common conditions of use.
These authorities include the international World Health Organization/UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s evaluation committee, the European Commission’s Scientific Committee for Food and the United States Food and Drug Administration.
None of the many scientific studies carried out over the last 30 years has shown a link between MSG intake and adverse reactions such as ‘Chinese Restaurant Syndrome’.
There have been some concerns raised about the contribution of MSG to sodium intake via the diet. However, MSG contains only about one-third the amount of sodium as table salt (13 percent vs. 40 percent) and so where we use it in products, in combination with a small amount of table salt, MSG can help reduce the total amount of sodium in a recipe by 20% to 40%, while maintaining an enhanced flavour. The level of glutamate for example in Maggi noodles is around 0.2 g/100 g, which is close to the average level of glutamate measured in the same portion size of tomatoes or peas.
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