The story of MSG - monosodium glutamate
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a food additive that has been used extensively for decades. Although major government agencies throughout the world have deemed the ingredient as safe, its use remains controversial from a health perspective.
What is MSG?
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is the sodium salt of the non-essential amino acid glutamate and is comprised simply of water, sodium and glutamate. Glutamate is one of the most common amino acids found in nature and is the main component of most high protein foods such as fish, meat, milk and some vegetables. Glutamate is also produced in the body and plays an important role in metabolism and brain function.
When in its 'free' form, glutamate has a flavour enhancing effect on foods. Traditional Asian cuisine for centuries has used seaweed extract and other ingredients for flavour due to their high concentrations of glutamate. However, it was not until the early 1900s that MSG was isolated and subsequently patented by the Ajinomoto Corporation of Japan. Today, MSG is produced in many countries around the world and used in a variety of foods prepared at homes, in restaurants and by food manufacturers. It is often used to enhance the natural flavours of meats, poultry, seafoods, snacks, soups and stews.
Some researchers suggest that MSG falls outside of the four classic tastes of sweet, sour, salty and bitter that is used in sensory research and provides a fifth taste. This unique flavour is called 'umami' in Japan and has often been described as savoury, broth-like or meaty.
Over the years, foods containing MSG has been linked to anecdotal reports of adverse health effects, commonly referred to as the "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome" along with other conditions including Alzheimer's disease and a worsening of asthma.
Numerous international scientific evaluations have been undertaken involving hundreds of studies, which have found MSG not to be an allergen and no reliable evidence to suggest health consequences from consuming it. In fact, even in studies where people were convinced that they were sensitive to MSG, no statistical association was found under controlled conditions. As a result, many governments and health organisations throughout the world support the use of MSG as used in foods.
Additionally, contrary to popular belief, MSG is not high in sodium. It provides around one-third the amount of sodium as table salt. Therefore, when used in cooking, its flavour enhancing properties can help to significantly reduce the amount of salt that needs to be used.
MSG must be included in the ingredient list on food packaging. In Australia and New Zealand, no food additive -- including MSG -- is approved for use in food until its safety has been established by Food Standards Australia New Zealand. MSG and other glutamates are among a group of food additives that have been establised as safe additives, so are generally permitted in foods.
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This article was originally written for Kidspot.com.au in conjunction with Weight Watchers as part of their Positively Life Changing initiative.