If you find yourself wondering what the source of the delicious savory taste in your takeout food is, look no further than “umami,” or the fifth taste. Often achieved by the addition of monosodium glutamate, controversy has surrounded this food additive for decades.
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is the sodium salt of glutamic acid, a nonessential amino acid. High levels of MSG are
The uniquely savory flavor associated with these foods is called “umami,” which is now widely accepted as the fifth taste.
Interestingly, glutamic acid itself does not have umami flavoring, but MSG in food activates glutamate receptors in the taste buds. These transmit signals to distinct regions of the brain, causing the characteristic taste.
But does MSG have a role beyond creating taste sensations? And why is there ongoing controversy over using MSG as a food additive?
Your stomach and gut lining are rich in glutamate receptors. MSG and other forms of glutamate are absorbed through interaction with these receptors. Once in the gut, glutamate is either broken down to act as fuel, or incorporated into other molecules.
Glutamate is also an essential neurotransmitter in the brain. However, dietary glutamate is believed to be unable to cross the
But there is
While the levels used in these studies far exceed normal daily consumption
So is it safe for us to consume MSG?
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have
In 1907, scientist Kikunae Ikeda, a professor at the University of Tokyo in Japan, was the first to extract MSG from seaweed. Nowadays, MSG is produced by fermentation of carbohydrates, in a process likened to making yogurt and wine by the
The FDA require food manufacturers to list MSG as a component. But ingredients such as hydrolyzed vegetable protein, autolyzed yeast, soy extract, and protein isolate also contain naturally occurring MSG.
But what about MSG symptom complex? The controversy surrounding the use of MSG in food – mostly in processed and pre-packaged food – is ongoing.
Consumption of MSG has been linked to itching, hyperactivity, headache, and swelling of the tongue and throat, in what is known as MSG symptom complex.
Therefore, the question of whether MSG is at the root of adverse food reactions or whether there is another culprit, especially in today’s highly processed foods, remains to be answered.