Hiding MSG

I heard from a friend yesterday.  She was extremely angry because her young child has what appear to be allergic reactions to MSG – monosodium glutamate.  She bought and served some food that did not list MSG as an ingredient under that name, but used another term she didn’t recognize.  As a result, her child became quite ill, and needed urgent medical treatment to deal with the symptoms.

There’s a lot of disagreement about whether there is such a thing as an allergy to MSG.  Medical science largely says there isn’t.  However, MSG can produce certain reactions that may be mislabeled an “allergy”, particularly in some children.  I won’t go into that argument here.  What did interest me was to learn how many manufacturers call MSG by a different name when labeling the contents of their foods.

Here are some of the names [manufacturers] use to disguise MSG:

  • glutamic acid
  • monopotassium glutamate or simply “glutamate”
  • yeast extract or yeast nutrient
  • hydrolyzed proteins (hydrolyzed vegetable protein, animal protein or plant protein)
  • soy protein isolate and soy protein concentrate
  • whey protein (whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate)
  • autolyzed plant protein
  • hydrolyzed oat flour
  • textured protein
  • caseinate (sodium caseinate and calcium caseinate)
  • natural flavorings or simply “flavoring”
  • ultra-pasteurized
  • enzyme modified
  • carrageenan
  • maltodextrin or malt extract
  • protein fortified

Some manufacturers even hide MSG under the catch-all “bouillon” term.

With so many different names for one harmful ingredient, a good idea is to make a list of these secret names and then take it with you when you go grocery shopping.

There’s more at the link.

I wish there was some way to standardize on a single name for MSG (or any other potentially allergy-producing ingredient) and insist that food manufacturers use that name, instead of such a wide range of potentially deceptive labels.  It would make life much easier!



  1. Definitely some misinformation there; maltodextrin and carrageenan are polysaccharides, completely unrelated to glutamic acid. Casein is a category of proteins found in milk.
    Glutamic acid is ubiquitous in hydrolyzed protein products (and as a constituent of everyday proteins); MSG as such is a convenient way of packaging it as a food additive. Saying that protein is a way of disguising MSG is highly misleading, but seems to be par for the course when it comes to health-and-nutrition sites.

  2. You know what else contains high amounts of Glutamate? Broccoli. Peas. Wine. Bacon. The reason it's got so many names is because it's a fundamental component of life, just like glucose or fat. This complaint is like saying honey and cane sugar and fruit juice should all be labelled the same.

    Maybe it's a good idea to stay in moderation, just like you want to only eat sugar in moderation and even steak in moderation. But you can't and shouldn't cut it out entirely.



  3. My wife has MS, and we have learned the hard way that MSG causes major flare-up problems for her. We always shop with the list you posted here.

    My addition: Glutamate is found in nature…however, it's almost always bonded to protein. Your body has to work to digest the protein away, so natural glutamate trickles into your system slowly.

    Monosodium glutamate, however, is bonded to sodium, and compared to the protein, digests rapidly. MSG doesn't trickle, it hits like a freight train, all at once.

    Glutamate is a neurological "on" switch, so stuff gets "activated"…like hunger, like allergy reactions, and, in my wife's case, the immune system.

    Excellent post, thanks.

  4. I food scientist my wife worked with started cooking from scratch, and lost a huge amount of weight. He explained there is a huge amount of junk stuff in processed foods. He was the chief scientist for a company that made salad dressings / sauces. Lots of substitutes in the materials was standard procedure.

  5. … yeah, food labeling is a bit of a mess because you can list things by origin, by processing method or by chemical composition, interchangeably. And in some cases by purpose.

    In the list given, just as an example, "ultra-pasteurized" is not a substance at all, it's a processing method – one that is typically done without adding anything to the processed material. It's just, all of these pretty much have to produce some kind of change in the processed material, and…

    There's also a point to be made that many of these reactions are definitely not allergies by the clinical definition. I mean, lots of people get a reaction to wild strawberries – those release histamine directly, no immunoglobulin reaction needed, so it's usually not an allergy. And then you get the kinds where it's the wrong immunoglobulin, so again by definition not an allergy… yes, some insurance adjusters are quite particular about that.

    Regular medical science just isn't quite up to figuring out individual variances in things like glutamate or histamine sensitivity, yet. Food industry might never get there. Duh, people are barely aware of differences in alcohol tolerance, let alone non-prescription painkillers… why yes, I do tend to have somewhat atypical response to some of these myself.

  6. Eric beat me to it, and knows WAY more about it than I do, certainly. I knew something was wrong, but my chem-fu didn't kick in until the carrageenan were thrown in.

    As a polysaccharide, carrageenan gives a sweet-and-salty taste, which I remember from being a kid and going out to collect Irish moss (a seaweed) at low tide for my mom to throw in the salad on Sundays, and into Hunter Stew in the late fall, because it thickened the broth when boiled.

    As an aside, an awful lot of people blame food sensitivities for their digestive disorders, when generally an awful lot of that is just eating crap and having anxiety-related diarrhea. MSG is one of those, certainly, but the waters do get muddied because there are a LOT of people who get the headaches associated and can't even tell why because of intentional mislabeling, which absolutely is a real problem in food production.

  7. One further note: maltodextrin (not the same thing as extract of malt; sorry, Tigger) is nigh-ubiquitous in processed foods, may (or so I've heard) be hidden under some other, starch-related name, and, while of no particular concern to most of us, can trigger disastrous reactions in individuals with certain autoimmune conditions.
    Since the first sign of such an autoimmune condition might be life-threatening systemic inflammation following a junk-food binge, well, that's just another of life's unnecessary risks.
    … Oh, and if you do have such a condition, and end up in the hospital? Good luck getting hospital food that won't make things worse.
    Yes, we need better and clearer food labeling. Also more reliable information on dietary issues. And maybe an outbreak of minimalist cuisine (Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup is not "an ingredient", and you wouldn't believe what's in the "healthy" stuff at Whole Foods).

  8. Since Obama's financial games began in the late 00's, I've seen the quality of food decline, probably as a reaction to cost inflation. Everything was done to keep from raising prices. Eventually, it became obvious that the contents listed didn't always match the label, on an erratic basis.

    For those of us with food sensitivities, this can be a frustrating situation, trying to figure out what is wrong. It can become a real crap-shoot, pun intended. Bad enough to encounter new food allergies as I get older. My sisters have similar complaints, but not identical lists. Sweet Potato seems to be the latest addition to mine. Unfortunately, that seems to be the new hotness in food preps. Wonderful…

    My diet is already restricted by the widespread contamination by Aspartame. That stuff scares me. No idea what it may be doing internally, but the resulting skin ulcers is suggestive.

  9. I think it's already been covered, but you really can't be allergic to glutamate. The whole overreaction to MSG is yet another drop in the ocean of chemophobia that is swamping our culture at the moment. If it sounds like a chemical, it must be bad… er, no.

  10. Cream of mushroom soup is too an ingredient! It's right there next to the cream of chicken soup ingredient. And the egg noodle ingredient. And the shredded cheese ingredient. And the almond milk ingredient. And the crushed saltine crackers ingredient. Not to mention the canned, shredded chicken (or tuna) ingredient.

    If you want to make things from scratch, by hand, then by all means do so. It really does taste better. The rest of us have other things to do with twelve hours a day, and don't have our own pasta presses.

  11. Cedar:

    Your attitude is unfortunate. I get the impression that you read nothing but the first comment.
    From my own experiences, I would be inclined to say we don't pay enough attention to chemicals, and drugs, that are so blithely consumed here in the US and the rest of Western Civ. Insufficient testing seems to be the word of the day, coupled with financial payoffs to allow things to be marketed that shouldn't be allowed.

  12. McChuck: Yeah, I might use canned soup (or the other things you mention) if I'm cooking for myself and don't need to worry too much about exactly what's going into the chow. I might even nuke a frozen burrito, if I'm feeling especially lazy or rushed.
    But… when a member of the household has a digestive and/or autoimmune condition that requires a severely restricted diet? It's pretty much cook-from-scratch, or look for a restaurant with simple things on the menu (steak, grilled; specific named veggies, steamed, without sauce; that sort of thing).
    And, around here, there's an infestation of restaurants that specialize in complicated foods: everything with mystery sauces (with Japanese-French fusion names) and at least one of their signature exotic herbs. Which, from my picky-eater perspective, means they're taking (e.g.) perfectly good salmon and turning it into something weird.

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