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Last updated January 1, 2014

Mono-Sodium Glutamate (MSG)

Compiled by Melissa Kaplan

For some reason, some people think that I advocate the use of MSG in foods - I do not!. This article is here because it bodes ill for things to come: while it appeared for a while that manufacturers were getting MSG out of foods, this may encourage them to put it back in, or to put it into new food products they are developing. Not good news for those of us who are adversely sensitive to MSG. So, please: no nasty letters from those of you who are for or against the use of MSG!

The Fifth Taste
The Associated Press, June 28, 1997

MIAMI (AP) - There may a fifth taste to add alongside sweet, sour, salty and bitter. It's a mouthful - scientists call it umami.

Two University of Miami researchers say certain taste buds in the mouths of animals react only to monosodium glutamate, or MSG, which is found naturally in almost every food.

So what does it taste like?

The Japanese word umami (pronounced oo-MOM'-ee) is difficult to translate, but many people use it for ``delicious'' or even ``yummy.'' It imparts a sort of meat-like flavor.

The food industry has known for years that adding MSG to snacks and meals makes you want to eat more - more chips anyone? Until now, scientists didn't know why.

The researchers, Nirupa Chaudhari and Stephen Roper, said Friday that if you always want a second helping of tomatoes, grapefruit, potatoes, apples, oranges and mushrooms, it is probably because they have plenty of MSG. Many pet foods are loaded with it.

MSG, a salt form of the amino acid glutamate, was blamed at least as far back as the 1960s for various health problems and even death. The government in 1995 declared it safe for almost everyone to eat.

Ms. Chaudhari and Roper shared their research with other laboratories and will present their findings to an international symposium on taste next month. They said MSG triggers certain taste buds, which send electrical signals to the brain.

The brain, now aware that umami is in the mouth, then sends its own signals that make the body want more. Parmesan cheese? Loaded with glutamate.

Roper, a professor of physiology and biophysics, likened the effect of MSG on taste bud receptors to a key used to turn on a car's engine.

``There are lots of things that happen in a car as a result of turning on that key,'' he said. ``MSG is like the key, and we are trying to find out what the intracellular machinery is doing.''

Understanding how this happens almost certainly will lead to nutritionists being able to stimulate taste buds in people who have no will to eat, the researchers said.

That could help mouth cancer patients who have lost their sense of taste or the elderly who waste away because of loss of appetite.

The average person has 2,000 to 5,000 taste buds, while some have as many as 10,000 and have a super sense of taste. The researchers said their tests have been limited to rats, but that taste buds in virtually all animals are like those of humans.

The findings solidify umami as a fifth taste, said John Teeter, a physiologist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia.

``Is this (taste) something that's mixed together from the others? It's quite clear that glutamate taste is different,'' Teeter told the Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale.

Of course, the food industry will be interested and is helping to fund the research, along with the National Institutes of Health.

Ms. Chaudhari, an associate professor of physiology and biophysics, said food companies hope to get people to eat more of their products.

``There could be other benefits to umami,'' Ms. Chaudhari said with a smile. ``What if you could get little kids to eat broccoli?''

Melissa Kaplan comments...
So, how come when I eat foods to which MSG has been added, I get severe headaches and my nose tingles and itches, but I don't get the same effects after eating foods mentioned above that contain natural MSG? I used to only eat Japanese or Chinese food at night, and always thought the raging thirst and headaches I woke up with in the middle of the night was the result of too much rice wine (saki). That all changed one day when I went out with clients for Korean food for lunch one day. At my desk two hours later, without having had any saki or alcohol of any type, I starting having the same headaches, thirst and itchy, tingly nose. That's when it hit me: it was the MSG I was reacting to, not the fermented rice wine. Once I made sure to patronize MSG-free Asian restaurants, I never had the problem again. I also became more careful in reading labels on cans and packages of food - you would be amazed at how many soups, for example, have MSG added...

MSG Now Being Sprayed On Crops
Truth in Labeling Campaign

Effective February 1999, the EPA is allowing farmers in all 50 states to use AuxiGro WP Plant Metabolic Primer ("AuxiGro"), made by Auxein Corporation of Lansing, Michigan. This product contains 29.2% processed free glutamic acid (MSG). This approval went through without first being opened up for public comment.

AuxiGro may be sprayed (including by airplane), on many food crops. Prior to the EPA approval, it was sprayed on snap beans, lettuce, peanuts, tomatoes, and potatoes. Fruits and vegetables that come to market may contain residual amounts of L-glutamic acid. Processed food made from fresh fruit or vegetables may have MSG in it, too. Baby food, largely free of MSG since the late 1970's, will now have MSG in it. Processed food will now have more MSG in it than it did before. And there may ultimately be MSG residue on every tomato, cucumber, strawberry (tests are currently underway in California), leaf of lettuce, or peanut that you eat, as well as on every other fresh fruit, grain or vegetable, if the list of crops approved for spraying is expanded.

There is no reason to believe that the product will not also affect groundwater and drinking water.

One concern is that MSG residual on treated fruits and vegetables poses a danger to humans, farm animals, and wild life. According to Samuels, "The millions of humans who suffer adverse reactions to processed free glutamic acid (MSG), particularly those who suffer life-threatening and/or debilitating reactions, and who react to minute amounts of the substance, may be exposed daily to undeclared amounts of the very substance that can kill or debilitate them."

Another concern is that the L-gluatmic acid will get into the foods themselves, thus causing allergic reactions even when surface residues have been removed. For example, there is already a report of MSG reactions to eating russet potatos. Did the MSG get into the roots (tubers) through the leaves via the plant's internal circulatory system? Or did it leach into the soil with the irrigation and rain water and get taken into the roots that way? Shouldn't these questions be answered before such foods are mass marketed for human consumption?

The EPA's action has exempted glutamic acid from the requirement of a tolerance on all raw agricultural commodities, allowing the amount of MSG residue on fruits and vegetables to be unlimited (Sec. 180.1187 - Code of Federal Regulations).

MSG is known to trigger migraine headache, tachycardia, arrhythmia, seizures, asthma, nausea and vomiting, hives, skin rash, anxiety attacks, depression and much, much more in people who have become sensitive to it. It causes gross obesity and learning disorders in laboratory animals that ingest it when young.

As is becoming the trend in chemical politics, the consumer is being forced to prove that chemicals are harmful, rather than the government forcing the chemical manufacturers to prove that they are safe. It will take a concerted effort to apply and keep applying pressure on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider its decision on the use of AuxiGro. Equal pressure will also have to be put on the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to block the increasingly pervasive appearance of MSG in all processed foods.

TLC has already provided the EPA with more than sufficient material to demonstrate the MSG places humans at risk. TLC has also written to the producer, Auxein Corporation, informing them that their product is potentially toxic, and asking them to withdraw it from the market.

If you think it is wrong to spray MSG on fruit and vegetable crops, please register your concern by contacting Ms. Carol Browner, Administrator, at the EPA, Secretary Donna Shalala, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and your senators and representatives. Even though AuxiGro is now on the market and in use, it is not too late for people to protest to the EPA, and ask that the registration of AuxiGro, and Section 180.1187 of the Code of Federal Regulations, be rescinded. Direct your letters to:

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
401 M Street, S.W.
Washington, DC 20460

Department of Health & Human Services
200 Independence Ave. S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20201

To find your state representative, go to the House of Representatives website at

To find your state sentators, go to the Senate website at

Truth in Labeling Campaign (TLC) is a nonprofit organization concerned with undisclosed use of MSG in food. More information on MSG and related issues can be found at their website at

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