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Understanding MSG Manufacturer’s Deceptive Tactics

Manufacturers hide the fact that there is MSG in their products.  If you want information from them, you must understand their deceptive tactics.

First you must understand the difference between "monosodium glutamate" and MSG.

1) MSG is the acronym used to identify processed free glutamic acid, i.e., the form of glutamic acid that causes adverse reactions in MSG-sensitive people when they ingest amounts of MSG that exceed their tolerance levels.  Processed free glutamic acid is glutamic aid that has been freed from protein through a manufacturing process or created through fermentation.

MSG is produced through fermentation or is made in manufacturing and chemical plants

a) using acids, enzymes, or bacteria to break down protein into its constituent amino acids, or

b) by selected strains of genetically modified bacteria that are fed selected nutrients which cause them to secrete glutamic acid through their cell walls. As is the case with all processed/ manufactured free glutamic acid, unwanted materials ("impurities") are produced along with the desired free glutamic acid. The particular impurities differ depending on the starting materials and the procedures used to produce the glutamic acid.

Any ingredient that contains protein as well as acids or enzymes, or any protein product that has been fermented, will very likely contain MSG.  Breaking down protein into its constituent amino acids by combining acids with protein is called hydrolysis.  If enzymes are used to break down protein, the process is called enzymolysis.  Even "a little" protein combined with acids or enzymes will create MSG.  When ingredients such as citric acid, maltodextrin, and dextrose are made from a protein containing source such as corn, manufacturers do not take the time or undertake the expense of removing all protein; and the remaining protein, combined with acids or enzymes, will be broken down during production, resulting in some MSG.

2) Monosodium glutamate is the name on one specific ingredient made up of processed free glutamic acid, sodium, moisture, and impurities.  Given that it invariably contains processed free glutamic acid, monosodium glutamate invariably contains MSG.  There are other ingredients besides monosodium glutamate that contain MSG, but monosodium glutamate is the only one of over 40 other MSG-containing ingredients with an ingredient name that suggests that the ingredient contains MSG.

Second, to have any chance of getting honest answers to your questions about MSG you must choose your words, and phrase your questions, carefully.

1) When questioning a food company regarding MSG, never ask if the product contains “MSG”.  That's because to some people in the food industry, "MSG" stands only for the food ingredient monosodium glutamate; while to other people "MSG" stands for processed free glutamic acid in any ingredient or in any form (a fact acknowledged by the FDA).  Food companies often wrongly assume (or pretend to assume) that the acronym "MSG" only applies to the food ingredient "monosodium glutamate."  So industry representatives may tell you that their product contains no monosodium glutamate while it actually contains processed free glutamic acid in ingredients other than monosodium glutamate.  In other words, they might respond to your question about "MSG" saying that the product is totally MSG free, even when it contains processed free glutamic acid (MSG).

2) When questioning a food company about processed free glutamic acid (MSG) in a product, ask if the product contains any "free glutamic acid."  It will be more difficult for a company to respond inappropriately to this question, although in some cases they avoid responding appropriately. Sometimes a company admits to the presence of free glutamic acid in their product(s, but may attempt to convince the consumer that their free glutamic acid is "naturally" occurring and, therefore, "safe."  No matter how "natural" is defined by a food company, the MSG in a product is never "safe" for an MSG-sensitive individual.

3) If you are not satisfied with a response that you receive from a company regarding processed free glutamic acid, ask if they have had, or would have, their product(s) tested for free amino acids.  An assay of free amino acids will tell you how much free glutamic acid (and, therefore, approximately how much MSG) there is in the product in question.  Ask that they send you a copy of the amino acid assay results.  An amino acid assay is easily obtained by a food company and will cost them about $150.