What are some restaurants that use MSG

The glutamate fairy tale

Eaten tasty at the Chinese and then suddenly headache, stiff neck, palpitations and dizziness. Anyone who blames the Asian chef for spicing up the dishes with a lot of glutamate is wrong. It is now highly controversial whether glutamate actually triggers these symptoms. "The negative public view of glutamate can lead to a nocebo effect," says Klaus Dürrschmid from the Institute for Food Science at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna. This means that anyone who knowingly eats foods with glutamate will feel negative effects, at least for a short time, which they would not have if they did not know about the glutamate and its supposedly negative effects.

At least studies over the past few decades have shown no connection between these typical complaints and glutamate. People who suffered from the aforementioned symptoms after eating in a Chinese restaurant did not react at all to the administration of glutamate later in the laboratory. Supposedly glutamate-sensitive people also did not react to Italian cuisine, which naturally contains a lot of natural glutamate - for example in tomatoes, parmesan, meat ragout, mushrooms, fish and ham. "There are hardly any known reliable numbers of people sensitive to glutamate," says Dürrschmid.

What makes soy sauces incompatible

Nutrition experts rather suspect the cause of the typical symptoms in other substances that are also found in products containing glutamate. "Asian cuisine often uses fermented raw materials such as soy sauce, kimchi, kombucha, miso or tempeh," explains Dürrschmid. This also creates a lot of biogenic amines. "These substances have a variety of effects on our well-being and our health."

The biogenic amines also include histamine, to which it is estimated that several percent of the population react with similar symptoms. Amine-sensitive people have too few enzymes that break down biogenic amines in the body. This could lead to reddening of the skin, sensations of heat, headaches, numbness in the mouth and pseudo-allergic reactions. "It is therefore quite conceivable that the biogenic amines and not the glutamate are actually responsible for the much-cited Chinese restaurant syndrome," said Dürrschmid. Alcohol could further increase the absorption of biogenic amines and thus lead to negative reactions.

Even if the typical Chinese restaurant symptoms are unlikely to be attributed to the glutamate, the substance may still not be harmless. Studies repeatedly indicate that regular high consumption of glutamate can trigger certain diseases. Because of its function as a messenger substance, it is mostly neurological abnormalities: In animal studies, too much of it irritated the nerves. Various nervous diseases such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's could also be associated with glutamate, as a level that is too high may cause brain cells to die. Dürrschmid doubts this, however: "Such abnormalities have nothing to do with the glutamate ingested through food, since it cannot cross the blood-brain barrier in adults. Those affected ha

They tend to be a malfunction in the body's own glutamate metabolism in the brain, "explains the expert.

Spice up the taste

Smaller studies indicate that glutamate, because of its appetite-promoting effects, causes weight gain, leads to high blood pressure and makes chronic pain worse. A negative influence on the intestinal flora cannot be ruled out either. However, no study has yet been able to prove that this is the case with moderate consumption. "If the effect of weight gain actually exists, it could be due to the fact that the foods that have been mixed with glutamate simply taste better and there is therefore a tendency to overeating," says Dürrschmid.

With the consumption of foods that naturally contain glutamate, you are in a safe area in terms of quantity. But the food industry mainly uses glutamate in heavily processed products such as sausage, ready-made sauces, soups, pizzas and dressings. The substance, which is chemically identical to the natural glutamate, is produced synthetically by bacteria and only has a mild taste of its own on its own. But in conjunction with other substances, it intensifies tastes and defines - in addition to sweet, bitter, sour and salty - the fifth flavor, umami, i.e. meaty.

The added glutamate should not only make the food more seductive, but also strengthen the flavoring ingredients of the food that are lost during intensive processing. Since it primarily imitates a meaty taste, manufacturers can also save on valuable raw materials such as meat or fish and expensive spices. "With glutamate, a meat maturity can be simulated that is actually not there," says Dürrschmid. Allowing meat to mature naturally costs energy, time and money.

Cook yourself and fresh

"Added glutamate is usually a clear indicator of a technically intensively processed product," says Dürrschmid. Highly processed foods are considered to be one of the causes of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and hardening of the arteries. Those who suffer from the symptoms should reduce their consumption of highly processed foods and cook them fresh as often as possible. If you want to do without added glutamate in convenience food, you have to read the list of ingredients carefully. Instead of glutamate or E621 to E625 there is yeast extract, soy extract or hydrolyzed protein, all of them substitutes. Since the substances are used as seasoning, the packaging may say "Without the addition of flavor enhancers". However, the product still contains glutamate.

However, glutamate can also have benefits for older people. When the sense of taste wanes, it can make eating fun again and thus prevent malnutrition. The umami taste of glutamate is also used for meat substitute products. In order to make the switch to plant-based alternatives easier, not only the vegan cult burger from the US company Beyond Meat relies on an extra serving of yeast extract. (Andreas Grote, October 15, 2019)