Glutamate in the form of MSG or hydrolysed protein is often added to foods as it helps enhance the flavour. Whilst it won’t make up for poor cooking practices or food quality it will help enhance the savoury flavours. It is often found in cheese, tomato pastes, stocks and sauces.
Glutamate occurs naturally in almost all foods include meat, poultry, cheese, milk and many vegetables. It is one of the most commonly found amino acids. The manufactured version of glutamate is MSG.
MSG has been used in Japanese cooking for thousands of years. Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) reviewed the safety of MSG in 2003 concluding ‘there is no convincing evidence that MSG is a significant factor in causing systemic reactions resulting in severe illness or mortality’.
Effect of MSG
There is no conclusive evidence on the impact and effect of MSG. Studies have reported that anywhere from two per cent to 36 per cent of the population are sensitive to MSG. Whilst it is not understood why some people react to MSG the symptoms of sensitivity include:
- Sleep apnea
- Unquenchable thirst
- Joint Pain
- Rapid heartbeat
Can you ask for no MSG?
If you want to avoid MSG double-check the labels before you purchase a product. In Australia, the FSANZ standards require that MSG be marked as the following on nutritional labels as 'Flavour enhancer (MSG)' or 'Flavour enhancer (621)'. If a product contains Flavour enhancer 622, 623, 624 or 625, then the product contains another glutamate additive.
The line gets a bit blurry when you are at restaurants but if asked the chef will be able to explain whether a flavour enhancer has been added.