Monosodium glutamate, also known as sodium glutamate or MSG, is the sodium salt of glutamic-acid or glutamate, the most abundant naturally occurring non-essential amino-acids and can be found in many protein-rich food products such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products and other plant sources. In general, protein-rich foods contain large amounts of glutamate usually bound in the muscle. Most vegetables contain relatively meagre quantities of glutamate, certain vegetables such as peas, tomatoes, and potatoes have significant amounts of free glutamate.
Glutamic-acid was discovered and isolated from wheat gluten and identified in the year 1866, by the German chemist Karl Heinrich Leopold Ritthausen. Later in 1907 Japanese researcher Kikunae Ikeda identified the taste properties of glutamate as brown crystals left behind after the evaporation of a large amount of Kombu broth. He found that these crystals had a hard-to-describe but undeniable flavor, something he termed ‘umami’. Other descriptors used to describe the taste of glutamate are savory, broth-like or meaty. The best way to describe the taste is similar to a chicken broth.
When MSG is added to foods, it provides a foundation flavour for traditional salt/savoury based foods. As discussed in my previous blogs on salt taste the majority of the global populations’ consume NaCl to excess which associates with adverse health effects e.g. hypertension, disability, cardiovascular disease. As a consequence, the WHO and the health authorities of most of the countries, including the Australian Division of World Action on Salt and Health (AWASH) advocate reducing the NaCl consumption in order to combat this health burden. It is possible, even plausible that MSG may be used to replace NaCl in food. The main advantage for MSG as a replacement for NaCl in foods is that at approximately equal intensity it contains approximately one-third the amount of Na as NaCl, and appropriate use of MSG is possible to reduce sodium in foods by up to 40% without adversly influencing liking or preference of the food. So why is such an easy solution overlooked by the food industry, could it be that there is a problem with MSG? Perhaps allergies? That is for MSG part 2.