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Health > Food And Diet > Mono Sodium Glutamate


Monosodium glutamate perks up the flavour of processed food. Used in excess, however, this useful food additive can produce severe reactions in some people.

Monosodium glutamate is an odourless, white, crystalline substance, closely resembling salt in appearance. Although it has little flavour itself, it has the remarkable property of enhancing the flavour of meat and other protein foods.


The flavour enhancing property of monosodium glutamate, or MSG as it is also known, was first discovered in the early part of this century. Since then it has been added to an increasing number of foods, as any additive that increases flavour has obvious attractions to food manufacturers.

The amount of monosodium glutamate normally added to processed foods is between 0.1 and 0.3 per cent – an amount generally accepted to be harmless. MSG is in fact the sodium salt of glutamic acid – an amino acid that is part of our own body protein. It is manufactured from natural substances such as wheat, corn, Soya beans and the pulp of sugar beet. And a substance similar to MSG is actually produced in the body as part of the normal process of metabolism.


In the late 1960s it was discovered that some people became ill after eating in Chinese restaurants, demonstrating a variety of symptoms including muscle tightening, headaches, dizziness and flushes – sometimes the symptoms were so severe that they were at first mistaken for signs of a heart attack. These reactions were traced to the excessive use of monosodium glutamate in some Chinese food, and gave rise to what is now known as ‘Chinese Restaurant Syndrome’. It must be stressed that this condition only affects those sensitive to MSG.

Overall there is no doubt that large amounts of MSG can cause discomforting symptoms in some individuals, and these people should avoid eating it as much as possible. However, there is no scientific evidence to prove that MSG in small quantities has a harmful effect, and most processed food would be insipid without its addition.

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