Smart Shopping and Reading Labels – monosodium glutamate and food labeling – Brief Article

As a general rule, the more food is processed, the more likely it is to contain monosodium glutamate (MSG). It is also true that the ambiguities of labeling requirements can make it difficult to determine whether food products contains MSG, according to George R. Schwartz, M.D., author of the 1988 book, In Bad Taste.

The following list of foods are grouped in order of their likelihood of containing MSG.

Most Likely

Potato chips and other prepared snacks

Canned soups and dry soup mixes

Canned meats, box dinners, and prepared meals

Frozen foods (seafood, chicken, and dinner entrees)

International foods

Poultry injected with broth

Very Likely

Diet foods

Salad dressings

Cured meats and lunch meats

Less Likely

Cookies, crackers (unless seasoned), and candy

Dairy products

Frozen vegetables

Breads, pasta, and baking ingredients (unless MSG is added to the


Seldom or Never

Ice cream

Frozen juices

Soft drinks and citrus juices (except possibly V-8)

Canned fruits and vegetables

Cereals, pancake mixes, and syrups

Bulk foods (rice, grains)

Fresh meat and fish

MSG and Food Labeling

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the labeling requirements of food products in the United States. Packaged food products are required by law to have their ingredients printed on the package and listed in descending order of predominance.

If MSG is added to a food product during its processing, it will be listed on the label. However, “hydrolyzed vegetable protein” is permitted to be listed on the label without a mention that it may contain up to 20 per cent MSG.

Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (protein hydrolysate) is classified by the FDA as a natural flavoring. Therefore, a packaged food item might specify “natural flavoring” in its list of ingredients without mentioning that the natural flavoring consists of hydrolyzed vegetable protein — which contains MSG.

Monosodium glutamate is on the GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) list of the FDA. It is not considered a food additive but an unregulated seasoning classified by the FDA as a flavor enhancer.

Section 101.22 of the Federal Code of Regulations deals with labeling requirements for spices, flavorings, colorings, and chemical preservatives. Part H(5) states: “Any monosodium glutamate used as an ingredient in food shall be declared by its common or usual name monosodium glutamate.”

Therefore, if monosodium glutamate is used as an ingredient in the processing of a food, it must be labeled as such; however, the MSG content of hydrolyzed vegetable protein need not be listed.

The Federal Code of Regulations Section 101.22, defining natural flavorings, states that “natural flavoring” be applied to “the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products or fermentation products thereof whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.”

This definition paves the way for labeling protein hydrolysate as natural flavoring, a designation that can mislead the average consumer who wishes to avoid MSG.

The following is a list of names and aliases of MSG to check for on food labels:





Gourmet powder


Chinese seasoning




Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (12%-20% MSG)

Hydrolyzed plant protein

Natural flavorings (can be hydrolyzed vegetable protein)


Kombu extract



(Adapted with the permission of HealthPress, Santa Fe, NM.)

COPYRIGHT 2001 Vegetus Publications

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group

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