In attempts to make packaged foods taste better, food companies employ various ingredients and additives. Some have been in use for ages, for example, spices and sugar. Others have a relatively short history and require complex manufacturing techniques.
One of the most famous additives is MSG – monosodium glutamate. It makes food taste better through its umami flavor. MSG is a salt form of glutamic acid, an amino acid that is a building block for proteins. Lots of proteins haveglutamates, but only when they are chemically unbound (free glutamates) do they impart an umami flavor. As you probably deduced, MSG contains a large amount of glutamates.
There has been a backlash against foods containing MSG, for two reasons. one – it’s a processed additive, and two – it causes a small percentage of people to have allergic reactions to it. The allergic reaction is due to the free glutamates.
Thankfully (?) there are other additives that are lower in glutamates, yet still add a good dose of flavor to products. Though super-sensitive people may still have a reaction, not all people who are sensitive to MSG have a problem with these additives:
– Yeast extract
– Autolyzed yeast
– Hydrolyzed proteins
All of the above contain a much lower level of glutamates compared to MSG.
Yeast extract is a processed form of yeast. Yeast is actually a whole kingdom of single cell organisms that convert carbs into CO2 (baking) and alcohol. Yeast extracts are created by removing the cell walls of yeast and leaving just the innards. The dead (and mutilated) yeast cell start to break up. Various enzymes turn the dead cell into groups of amino acids, including glutamates.
When the enzymes used are added externally, we call it Hydrolyzed yeast. When the enzymes are those present in the yeast cells, the end result isAutolyzed yeast.
Should you eat foods with these additives? Assuming you have no sensitivity, there is no food safety issue. The more important question is why was yeast extract added in the first place? Good fresh ingredients, when prepared with salt and quality spices, don’t need factory produced flavor additives.
By: Hemi Weingarten