Glutamate is L-glutamic acid and its salts. Glutamate is used as an additive (E 620 - 625) mainly to enhance the flavour of savoury and sour foods (spice mixes, sauces, soups and other spicy food). Many foodstuffs such as meat, fish, milk and vegetables contain glutamate in small quantities. Well-matured cheese, such as Parmesan, contains up to 1,200 mg/100 g. The level of free glutamate in breast milk is 22 mg/100 g (FSANZ 2003).
Eating food containing glutamate may cause hypersensitivity reactions in individual people (tingling sensation in the throat, hot or tightening feeling). The so-called China restaurant syndrome which is connected to glutamate was first described in 1968. However, no direct connection between glutamate intake and the symptoms described could be found to date (Williams and Woessner, 2009).
In their safety assessments on glutamate, international expert committees such as the FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have concluded that there is no health risk when the technically required amount of glutamate is ingested. The assessment of glutamate by the EFSA is planned to be carried out by 31st December, 2016 as part of its programme to reassess the food safety of all food additives.
Consumers can easily see whether the food contains glutamate or other flavour enhancers in pre-packed products. Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011 on the provision of food information for consumers prescribes an obligatory list of all ingredients (incl. additives) in a pre-packed good. The list of ingredients must contain all additives with their specific name and the appropriate E number preceded by the category name “flavouring”.
Beyreuther K., Biesalski H. K. et al. (2006): Consensus meeting: monosodium glutamate – an update. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, advance online publication. doi:10.1038/sj.ejcn.1602526
Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung (BfR 2003) Überempfindlichkeitsreaktionen durch Glutamat in Lebensmitteln Stellungnahme des BfR vom 16. Juli 2003
Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) (2003): Monosodium Glutamate, a Safety Assessment. Technical Report Series No.20
JECFA (1988): L-glutamic acid and its ammonium, calcium, monosodium and potassium salts. In: Toxicological evaluation of certain food additives. WHO Food Additives Series 22:97-161.
Raiten D.J., Talbot J.M. and Fisher K.D. (1995): Executive Summary from the Report: Analysis of Adverse Reactions to Monosodium Glutamate (MSG). J. Nutr. 125: 2892S-2906S.
SCF (1991): Reports of the Scientific Committee on Food. 25th Series. ec.europa.eu/food/fs/sc/scf/reports/scf_reports_25.pdf (Zugriff am 20.11.2012)
Williams A.N. and Woessner K.M. (2009): Monosodium glutamate ‘allergy’: menace or myth?. Clinical & Experimental Allergy, 39: 640–646.