Why does monosodium glutamate taste so good

Diet: That's how harmful glutamate in food really is

Opinions differ on an inconspicuous chemical compound. The flavor enhancer monosodium glutamate - usually called glutamate for short - is considered by some as a "voracious agent that contributes significantly to overweight and obesity". So the pediatrician and author Michael Hermanussen. In shrill tones, he denounces the most frequently used additive in the food industry. Some researchers blame glutamate for intolerance reactions such as nausea and headaches (the Chinese restaurant syndrome).


The World Health Organization (WHO) and the German Nutrition Society (DGE) in Bonn, on the other hand, call for serenity: “We assume that glutamate does not pose a health risk when used rationally as part of a balanced diet,” explains a spokeswoman for the DGE.

Glutamate also E621


Glutamate, the salt of glutamic acid, is a natural component of numerous foods such as tomatoes, ham and cheese. The substance is also produced synthetically with the help of bacteria. It is popular worldwide as a condiment. Asians use it in powder form for cooking, in Germany it is mainly used as a flavor enhancer with the code E621 in industrial food production.

It is estimated that 1.5 million tons are produced worldwide every year. In Germany, too, E621 has become the most important additive for convenience foods. Thanks to glutamate, pizzas, snacks, soups, sausages and many other products get a meaty, spicy note, the so-called umami taste (Japanese for deliciousness). In this way, food manufacturers can save on expensive raw materials such as meat, shrimp or cheese.

Glutamate is a messenger substance

The Japanese Kikunae Ikeda discovered monosodium glutamate in 1908. Today, umami is the fifth basic taste alongside salty, sour, sweet and bitter.

However, glutamate is much more than just a condiment. As a messenger substance in the brain, it plays an important role in cell metabolism.
This is where the concerns about the use of glutamate on an industrial scale begin. The list of suspicions is long. In the 1970s, the first cases became known in the USA in which glutamate is said to have triggered acute symptoms such as headaches and numbness after visiting Asian snack bars. In double-blind trials (a double-blind study is an experiment in which neither test persons nor investigator know which subjects belong to the experimental group and which to the control group.) With persons who say they suffer from the Chinese restaurant syndrome, no connection between Prove glutamate consumption and the symptoms.

Neurotoxic effects of glutamate

Another accusation is significantly more severe than the generally rarely documented Chinese restaurant syndrome: Glutamate damages the brain in the long term and can lead to serious diseases such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's, warn some scientists.