Monosodium glutamate, also known as sodium glutamate and MSG, is a sodium salt of the non-essential amino acid glutamic acid. It is used as a food additive and is commonly marketed as a flavour enhancer. It has the HS code 29224220 and the E number E621. Trade names of monosodium glutamate include Ajinomoto, Vetsin, and Accent. There are many health adverse reaction which can be caused by monosodium glutamate, also. See the Health Controversy section.
Although traditional Asian cuisine had often used seaweed extract which contains high concentrations of glutamic acid, MSG was not isolated until 1907. MSG was subsequently patented by the Japanese Ajinomoto Corporation in 1909. In its pure form, it appears as a white crystalline powder; when dissolved in water (or saliva) it rapidly dissociates into sodium cations and glutamate anions (glutamate is the anionic form of glutamic acid, a naturally occurring amino acid).
Like the sodium salts of other amino acids, MSG is a stable colourless solid that is degraded by strong oxidizing agents. It exists as enantiomers, but only the naturally occurring L-glutamate form is used as a flavour enhancer.
Modern commercial MSG is produced by fermentation of starch, sugar beets, sugar cane, or molasses. About 1.5 million metric tons were sold in 2001, with 4% annual growth expected. MSG is used commercially as a flavour enhancer. Although once associated with foods in Chinese restaurants, MSG is now found frequently in many fast food chains and many common household food items, particularly processed foods.
Only the L-glutamate enantiomer has flavour-enhancing properties. Manufactured MSG contains over 99.6% of the naturally predominant L-glutamate form, which is a higher proportion of L-glutamate than found in the free glutamate ions of naturally occurring foods. Fermented products like soy sauce, steak sauce, and Worcestershire sauce have comparable levels of glutamate as foods with added MSG. However, glutamate in these brewed products may be composed 5% or more of the D-enantiomer.
Monosodium glutamate as a food ingredient is the subject of a health concern controversy.
Monosodium glutamate is only one of several forms of free glutamate used in foods. Free glutamate can also be present in a wide variety of other additives, including hydrolyzed vegetable proteins, autolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed yeast, yeast extract, soy extracts, protein isolate, "spices" and "natural flavorings." The food additives disodium inosinate and disodium guanylate are usually used in synergy with monosodium glutamate-containing ingredients, and provide a likely indicator of the presence of monosodium glutamate in a product. See http://www.truthinlabeling.org for more information about this topic.
For this reason, FDA considers labels such as "No MSG" or "No Added MSG" to be misleading if the food contains ingredients that are sources of free glutamate, such as hydrolyzed protein.
In 1993, FDA proposed adding the phrase "(contains glutamate)" to the common or usual names of certain protein hydrolysates that contain substantial amounts of glutamate. For example, if the proposal were adopted, hydrolyzed soy protein would have to be declared on food labels as "hydrolyzed soy protein (contains glutamate)."
MSG has the E number E621.
The INTERMAP Cooperative Research Group conducted a study of 752 healthy Chinese (48.7% women), aged 40-59 years, randomly sampled from three rural villages in north and south China and determined that MSG intake may be positively related to increased BMI (Body Mass Index)
Standard 1.2.4 of the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code requires the presence of MSG as a food additive to be labeled. The label must bear the food additive class name (e.g. flavour enhancer), followed by either the name of the food additive (e.g. MSG) or its International Numbering System (INS) number (e.g. 621).