The impact of MSG on health has been debated in more than a couple medical journals and health related publications. There may be sound evidence supporting the adverse effects of MSG that may be enough reason for you to stay away from it, but having gluten is not one of them.
Why is this fact important for the gluten-free intolerant?
Recognize that especially in the Philippines, MSG is everywhere. The fact that flavor enhancers like Maggi Savor and Ajinomoto are pantry staples is just one of the signs. Typical restaurants that put flavor first will use some form of flavor enhancer that contains MSG. We really have to ask if we’re putting ourselves at risk if we need to stay away from gluten, but find MSG stealthily appearing in most food items we buy.
If the absence of umami is driving you crazy (well, not crazy, just that it’s not exactly convenient to be paranoid about all food items), know this: MSG is actually gluten-free.
Aside from sounding similar, glutamate and gluten are actually two different substances. First, monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a sodium salt of glutamic acid, an amino acid that is present in all protein containing food like cheese, and meat. It occurs naturally in some food, and is commonly used as a flavor enhancer, and responsible for the umami that can more descriptively termed as a savory, brothy or meaty taste. Gluten, on the other hand, is a protein that is found in wheat, barley and rye.
MSG is made primarily through fermentation using various sugars and starches, such as sugar cane, beet sugar, corn starch and tapioca starch as starting materials (http://www.glutamate.org), wheat and rye actually not being on the list.
Why the talk first and foremost of MSG (monosodium glutamate) being linked to gluten?
A source of controversy is that glutamic acid was first isolated in the year 1866 from wheat promain gliadin, and in 1909 MSG was isolated from wheat flour. This was the primary source of MSG until the 1960s when other methods of deriving gluten were developed, including chemical synthesis and fermentation process.
Other sources since then have been used, which no longer use wheat.
So, if you are staying away from gluten, it can be a big burden off your chest to know that MSG is one less thing you have to worry when you have gluten sensitivity.
Looking for gluten-free food? Visit: http://shop.gerald.ph/gluten-free
Sano, Chiaki. History of Glutamate Production. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2009;90:728S-732S. Available at: http://www.ajcn.org/content/90/3/728S.full
Thompson, Tricia, MS, RD. Monosodium Glutamate! . Gluten Free Dietitian. 2011. Available at http://www.glutenfreedietitian.com/monosodium-glutamate/