What exactly is glutamate?
Glutamate was discovered way back in 1908 by a Japanese man named Kikunae Ikeda, and appears as a natural component in many foods: tomatoes, meat, grains, and milk products, for example. The substance also plays a central role in cellular metabolism as a messenger substance produced naturally in the brain.
These days, glutamate is primarily manufactured synthetically. It acts more and more frequently as a flavor enhancer or seasoning in industrial food production. During production, certain bacteria are added to carbohydrates, resulting in monosodium glutamate, the salt of glutamic acid.
Glutamate gives foods a meaty, spicy flavor. Also called umami, Japanese for “savory,” many consider it to be the fifth flavor next to sweet, sour, salty, and bitter.
The flavor enhancer has now been the subject of criticism and controversy for years. What’s the truth, actually? Does glutamate need to be taken out of our food?
The Chinese restaurant syndrome
Industrially manufactured glutamate first came under fire in the 70’s. People dining at Asian restaurants, increasingly complained of headaches, nausea, rapid heartbeat, feelings of numbness, itching, and tingling, also known as the Chinese restaurant syndrome.
Nevertheless, since the symptoms are considered unspecific and irregular, even today, it’s difficult to prove a clear glutamate intolerance.
Alzheimer’s, dementia, and obesity?
Glutamate has also become a topic of conversation due to far more serious accusations. It’s under suspicion of causing illnesses like Alzheimer’s and dementia. Moreover, glutamate is considered to be an indirect culprit of weight gain. It’s said to cause problems with appetite regulation, thus increasing the risk for obesity and excess weight.
Due to these unclarified questions thus far, german nutritionist Matthias Riedl nonetheless advises, “Glutamate is a cheap seasoning, something to spice up ready-to-use foods, and it’s capable of shifting our eating habits towards something unhealthy. People should avoid glutamate when they can, and only consume it in small amounts.”