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An investigation into the usage of Monosodium Glutamate in the ethnic food catering industry

Project Reference: 05-2010A

Status: Completed

Commencement Date: December, 2010

Project Duration: 6 months


Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a flavour enhancer commonly added to Chinese food, canned vegetables, soups and processed meats. Although it is permitted as a food ingredient in the EU and elsewhere, the use of MSG remains controversial. In the EU, MSG like other permitted food additives, must appear on the label if used as a deliberate ingredient and has been ascribed the E number 621. MSG has been used as a food additive for decades. Anecdotal reports of adverse reactions to MSG have been reported.  Symptoms include headache, flushing, sweating, facial pressure or tightness, numbness, tingling or burning in face, neck and other areas, heart palpitations, chest pain, nausea and weakness. Adverse reactions are simply known as "MSG symptom complex"; there is no definitive evidence of a causal link between MSG consumption and these symptoms. The consumption of MSG is essentially a consumer choice issue.

This survey investigated MSG usage in Chinese, Indian and Thai restaurants and take-away outlets in Cork and Belfast. MSG use varied considerably from one premises to another. The number of premises that used excessive amounts of MSG was very low.  Importantly, the results showed that even where MSG is not used, you can still get free glutamate from other ingredients. MSG-free options always had much lower free glutamate levels indicating that a request for an MSG-free meal can be accommodated. Since free glutamate was detected in all cuisine tested, it is in the interests of the staff to advise their customers that (a) they don’t add MSG to their dishes or, where it is added, this step can be omitted, and (b) their dishes may contain free glutamate from other ingredients.

Principal Contractor(s):

Dr Fred Davison, Cork Public Analyst Laboratory


Environmental Health Service, Health Services Executive, Belfast City Council



MSG usage in the ethnic food catering industry

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