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Monosodium glutamate, also known as MSG, Ve-tsin or E621 is used as a flavour enhancing agent, in many kinds of food products to enhance their original flavour. Glutamic acid as well as different salts of glutamic acid other than MSG, like monopotassium glutamate, show the same effect. Glutamate also imparts an unique taste called ‘umami' in food, and it was scientifically recognized as the fifth basic taste along with sweet, sour, salty and bitter. As glutamate is a major component of protein, it is found naturally in virtually all protein-containing foods such as meat, poultry, seafood, vegetables and milk. Naturally occurring glutamate has been traditionally used to impart the umami taste.

In the past, there were some anecdotal reports indicating glutamate caused subjective symptoms like numbness, weakness and palpitation. It was called 'Chinese-restaurant-syndrome.' However, it has never been scientifically confirmed using double-blind, cross-over placebo-controlled studies, that these reactions are really caused by glutamate.

The amount of glutamate used in foods is usually within the range of 0.1% to 0.8% of the food as it is served. This is similar to levels of naturally occurring glutamate found in traditional dishes. The taste of glutamate is self-limiting. This means that once the appropriate amount has been included in a recipe, adding more contribute little to flavour or may even be detrimental to the flavour balance of the dish.

To bring a bit more clearness and a better understanding of what glutamate is, the texts below provide answer some frequently asked questions about glutamate. Information on the labelling of monosodium glutamate and other flavour enhancing agents is also supplied.

Origin and function in the body

Monosodium glutamate, is a salt of glutamic acid. Glutamic acid is one of the 20 amino acids making up proteins. From a nutritional standpoint it is called a non-essential amino acid which means that it can be synthesized in our body.

In food as well as in tissue glutamic acid can be present in two forms: in a ‘bound' form when it is linked to other amino acids to make up proteins or in a ‘free' form when present as a single amino acid. Only free glutamate plays an important role in food flavour.

Recent studies have demonstrated that food-derived glutamate is the main energy source of the intestine. The intestine has such a voracious appetite for glutamate, and it has been shown that of all the glutamate eaten as food only about 4% passes into the body. This implies that the rest of the body has to synthesize nearly all of the glutamate that it needs.

Any glutamate in the food, whether bound in protein or free, or added, is converted in the intestine into free glutamate, and used for energy production by the intestine. Glutamate is also used in the brain as a neurotransmitter. However, the blood brain barrier which controls what type of molecules can enter the brain, does not allow its passage. Therefore, the brain has to synthesize its own glutamate from glucose and other amino acids.

Due to the central position of glutamate in metabolism, it has important functions such as substrate for protein synthesis, precursor of glutamine, nitrogen transport, and so on.

Occurrence and production

Glutamate occurs naturally in many foods. It is present in meat, fish, vegetables or grain products in the protein-bound form and in tomato, milk, potato, soy sauce, as well as many kinds of cheese in the free form.
Besides its natural occurrence, it can be added to many foods. It is often used in soups, sauces, crisps and any kinds of savory processed foods.

Many Asian dishes are characterized by the taste of glutamate which comes both from natural origin like soy or fish sauce and added glutamate as a flavour enhancer. In the case of Italian cuisine, glutamate from cheese and tomato makes it tasty. It increases the original taste of the food and makes the food taste more savoury.

The commercial production of monosodium glutamate was started in 1909. In the past, it was produced by hydrolysis of natural proteins, such as wheat gluten and soybean flakes. Nowadays, the production of monosodium glutamate is carried out through bacterial fermentation. The bacteria (Corynebacterium glutamicus ) are grown in a liquid medium containing sugars, molasses or starch as a fermentation substrate. The bacteria are able to produce and to excrete glutamic acid into the medium. Glutamic acid thus accumulates in the medium and is later separated by filtration, purified and converted by neutralization into monosodium glutamate. After additional purification, crystallization, and drying, a white powder of monosodium glutamate is ready to use as flavour enhancer.

Related products

Flavour enhancers other than monosodium glutamate are also used. Some of them are based on glutamate, which are such as: monopotassium glutamate, calcium diglutamate, monoammonium glutamate, and magnesium diglutamate.

Flavour enhancers not based on glutamate and having the same taste properties are guanylic acid, disodium guanylate, dipotassium guanylate, calcium guanylate, inosinic acid, disodium inosinate, dipotassium inosinate, calcium inosinate, calcium 5'-ribonucleotides, and disodium 5'-ribonucleotides.

Flavour enhancers are mentioned in the ingredients list of a foodstuff in the following way: name of the food additive category they belong to, i.e.: ‘flavour enhancer', followed by either their specific name or their corresponding E code number. The E-numbers of flavour enhancers (E620 to E 640) are shown in the following table.

E-number Name
E620 Glutamic acid
E621 Monosodium glutamate
E622 Monopotassium glutamate
E623 Calcium diglutamate
E624 Monoammonium glutamate
E625 Magnesium diglutamate
E626 Guanylic acid
E627 Disodium guanylate
E628 Dipotassium guanylate
E629 Calcium guanylate
E630 Inosinic acid
E631 Disodium inosinate
E632 Dipotassium inosinate
E633 Calcium inosinate
E634 Calcium 5'-ribonucleotides
E635 Disodium 5'-ribonucleotides
636 Maltol
637 Ethyl maltol
E640 Glycine and its sodium salt

Note: E636 – E637 and E 640 are flavour enhancers without ‘umami' taste

For more information on these products, see the E-number section of this site.

Side effects of MSG

Many years ago reports were published indicating that asthmatic subjects could suffer from asthma attacks after the consumption of food containing monosodium glutamate. For that reason research was carried out to show whether there was a relationship between asthma and monosodium glutamate and to determine whether there were health risks due to the consumption of monosodium glutamate. No relation between monosodium glutamate and the occurrence of asthma attacks could be established. In different trials people who perceived themselves to suffer from an increase of asthmatic symptoms after consumption of monosodium glutamate in comparison to asthmatic people that did not complain about that effect were fed with monosodium glutamate as well as with placebos. No correlation could be found between the consumption of monosodium glutamate and the occurrence of asthma attack. People reacted on monosodium glutamate in the same way as on the given placebos.

People who perceive themselves as monosodium glutamate-intolerant may react to another compound in the food, but not to monosodium glutamate.

Similar trials were performed with people said to be suffering from headaches, dizziness and other (neurological) problems. Often these problems were due to the increase of sodium and the lack of enough moisture in the body (‘hangover effect'). No clear scientific relation with the intake of MSG and symptoms could be established.

A summary of different experiments assessing the effects on health of monosodium glutamate was published by Raif et al., 2000. Their final conclusion was that the results of numerous researches performed on monosodium glutamate allow to consider it as a generally safe food ingredient. Neither epidemiological nor challenge studies could provide any evidence that intake of monosodium glutamate leads to adverse reactions in the population at large. Some experiments showed that large doses of monosodium glutamate taken without food may lead to subjective symptoms in people who believe that they react to monosodium glutamate. However these symptoms are rare and neither serious nor persistent and these reactions did not take place when monosodium glutamate was given with food.

It can thus be concluded that the intake of glutamate is safe for the general population. However, proper labelling offers persons who prefer not to consume foods with added MSG the possibility to avoid those products.

See also the report with more information on MSG.

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. : Monosodiumglutamate - E621 (8) : Monosodiumglutamate - E621 (2024)


What is the MSG code E621? ›

Monosodium glutamate (E621) is widely used in marketing as a flavor enhancer and is added to many processed foods. Today, about 50% of store products contain this additive, while the average daily human consumption in industrialized European countries is approximately 0.3-1.0 g.

Is flavour enhancer 621 safe to eat? ›

Is it bad for you? Answer From Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a flavor enhancer often added to restaurant foods, canned vegetables, soups, deli meats and other foods. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified MSG as a food ingredient that's generally recognized as safe.

What are the side effects of E621 flavor enhancer? ›

Since then, other more common symptoms have been added to the syndrome including headaches, migraines, numbness/tingling, chest tightening, heart arrhythmia, anxiety, irritability, irritable bowel syndrome, restlessness, sleep disturbance, flushing, muscle tightness and behaviour problems in children.

What foods have E621? ›

Monosodium glutamate (MSG E621) is a common food additive used as a food flavoring and umami seasoning in foods, including meat products, broth, soups, snacks, and different kinds of seasonings.

Is E621 banned in Europe? ›

The European Union classifies it as a food additive permitted in certain foods and subject to quantitative limits. MSG has the HS code 29224220 and the E number E621.

Is monosodium glutamate natural? ›

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is the sodium salt of the common amino acid glutamic acid. Glutamic acid is naturally present in our bodies, and in many foods and food additives. How is it made? MSG occurs naturally in many foods, such as tomatoes and cheeses.

What flavour enhancers are bad? ›

Flavor enhancers such as MSG, aspartame, and sucralose can cause adverse health consequences. From allergic reactions to cardiovascular risk, these chemicals pose a number of health threats. In people with high blood pressure, excessive salt consumption can also negatively impact health.

Does MSG keep you awake? ›

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) – this can act as an excitotoxin in the brain, stimulating activity. Too much glutamate also throws the balance of GABA, which in turn increases anxiety and reduces REM sleep levels.

How much MSG should I use? ›

MSG is added to foods before or during cooking. Add it at the same time during the cooking process as you would add salt, pepper or other seasonings. Approximately one-half teaspoon of MSG is an effective amount to enhance the flavor of a pound of meat or four-to-six servings of vegetables, casseroles or soup.

What does MSG do to your stomach? ›

An excessive consumption of MSG can cause a "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome" and gastritis, gastric and duodenal ulcers. Therefore, the maximum dose of MSG should be reconsidered taking into account its influence on the secretory capacity of the stomach.

Is MSG bad for your sperm? ›

MSG damages male reproductive accessory organs like prostate glands and epididymis. MSG reduces serum concentration of testosterone, gonadotropin-releasing hormone and luteinizing hormone. MSG alters sperm indices and male sexual behaviour.

What is the best flavour enhancer? ›

We have compiled a list of 5 of our most common flavor enhancers so your meals can bring a smile to every customer's face.
  • Monosodium glutamate. ...
  • Honey. ...
  • Citric acid. ...
  • Corn syrup. ...
  • Salt (Sodium Chloride)
Feb 10, 2023

Does McDonald's use MSG? ›

Originally Answered: Does McDonald's add MSG to their food to make it taste so good? Not exactly. McDonald's does not add MSG (monosodium glutamate) to its food, but they do use ingredients like hydrolyzed vegetable protein in several products.

Does Chick-fil-A use MSG? ›

While MSG is present in some of our menu offerings as a flavor enhancer, we also offer a variety of options that do not contain added MSG. To help our customers make informed decisions, we provide ingredient statements on the Chick-fil-A app or on your local restaurant's menu page.

Does ketchup have MSG? ›

Condiments like ketchup, mayonnaise, barbecue sauce, soy sauce, mustard, and salad dressings have been known to contain MSG to boost flavor. Many types of chips and related snacks include MSG to enhance the salty, savory flavors that they're known for.

What is the additive code for MSG? ›

Glutamate based flavour enhancers have code numbers (found on ingredient labels) 620-625. MSG is 621. While products may be labelled MSG free, they may still contain other glutamate based flavour enhancers.

What is E621 in noodles? ›

MSG is one of the commonly used food additives, with a code number of E621, according to European regulations [2, 3]. MSG is also a flavor enhancer to give the unique Umami taste [4] in fast food products, such as instant noodles, soups, sauces, pizza, crisps and potato snacks [5, 6].

What is E621 E635? ›

Disodium Ribonucleotides (E635 Flavour) is a natural flavor enhancer used as an ingredient in food industries. It is often used in a food already contains natural glutamates or added E621 monosodium glutamate (MSG). E635 Flavour enhancer is widely used in EU and North America.

Is MSG E621 halal? ›

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) [E621]

In USA/Canada it is kosher certified and meet the Halal requirements. Monosodium Glutamate can also be obtained from yeast. But if yeast is grown on pork media then it is Haram.


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