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Yeast Extract

November 30, 2014

The other day, I read the label on a can of mushroom soup.  One of the ingredients was yeast extract.  I knew immediately what that was.  There’s a trend of food manufacturers changing the name of some ingredients, especially those that might alarm most consumers.  They strive to make these ingredients seem more natural, probably because many people now believe that natural means good.  Yeast extract is another name for monosodium glutamate.  It also appears in ingredient lists as hydrolized protein of various sorts.  MSG and all the other glutamates are flavour enhancers.  That’s why it’s added to so many foods.

You may not know this, but we have a taste sensor for protein on our tongues.  When activated, it produces the sensation of deliciousness.  It actually responds to glutamates, which are breakdown products of protein.  Many foods contain glutamates.  Ones that are particularly high on glutamtes are cooked meat, prepared meat, old cheese, sauces, and gravy.  Now you know why all fast foods include cheese and bacon.  It makes them more delicious, more appealing to the consumer.

People believe that MSG causes Chinese restaurant syndrome.  Symptoms of this purported disorder are headache, rapid heart rate, and nausea.  This belief originated with a story written after the author became ill after eating at a Chinese restaurant.  This doubtful story led to the false belief.  Many scientific studies have shown no such symptoms after people ate foods that contained MSG.  The author of this story even admitted to making an error.  In spite of the evidence, many people continue to believe that MSG causes this syndrome.  Consequently, Chinese restaurants all display a notice on their menus that no MSG was used.  People also avoid any foods that list MSG on their labels.

There are a few people who do react to MSG in foods, but they also react to all forms of glutamate.  They can’t eat any of the foods that are high in glutamates, old cheese and bacon included.  This is an allergy, fortunately one that affects only a small number of people.  For the rest of us, there’s nothing to fear from MSG regardless of what name it’s listed as.  It’s simply a flavour enhancer.  Is it really needed?  That’s another question, one in which the consumer certainly plays a role.


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