Published on Feb 22, 2011 with 3 comments
Monosodium Glutamate, or MSG, is a white crystalline powder commonly used as a food additive for its unique flavor enhancing qualities. MSG is the sodium salt of the natural occurring non-essential amino acid called glutamic acid. It is manufactured through the fermentation of starch, sugar cane, sugar beets, or molasses.
Although once associated only with Chinese food, MSG is now widely used by fast food establishments and it is present in many foods such as soup bouillon cubes, barbecue sauces, salad dressings, flavored chips, canned, frozen, and dry prepared foods, processed meats, as well as seasoning mixes. Fermented products such as soy sauce, steak sauce, and Worcestershire sauce contain high levels of glutamate similar to foods with added MSG. It is available commercially under the trade names Accent, Ajinomoto, and Vetsin.
MSG has been reported to be responsible for a variety of symptoms including headaches, flushing, sweating, facial pressure or tightness, numbness, heart palpitations, chest pain, nausea, and weakness. These symptoms were initially characterized as the “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome”, but have subsequently been described as the “monosodium glutamate symptom complex”. Despite reports suggesting a cause and effect relationship, decades of research have failed to demonstrate a clear and consistent relationship between the ingestion of MSG and these symptoms. In addition, symptom characteristics do not support an IgE mediated or allergic mechanism. In short, we are not exactly sure how, why or when MSG may cause symptoms in certain people, and MSG is certainly not an allergy. However, anecdotal reports continue to suggest that MSG can produce symptoms in susceptible individuals, especially headaches, muscle tightness, numbness and tingling.
Because of anecdotal reports of MSG related symptoms, the FDA requires that it be listed on processed food labels and has classified MSG as a food which is “generally recognized as safe”.
For more information about MSG, allergies to spices and other food additives, read our article Food Additives and Spice Allergy.