Saturday, October 24, 2009

MSG Myth #1: Glutamate is not Glutamine (not that there's anything wrong with that)

Glutamic acid

Structure of Glutamic Acid
Note the "OH" on the left side.
Found in all protein.
Tasty as free glutamate.

Sometimes, people who freak out about MSG can't help but display their ignorance of the topic. One of the most common mistakes is to hopelessly confuse completely different substances because their names happen to share some letters.

To wit: while hyperventilating about MSG, Alicia Richardson makes the mistake of assuming that glutamine is the same thing as glutamic acid (the tasty amino acid behind free glutamate and MSG). She apparently reached this conclusion because their names look kind of similar.

It's a bizarre report, lacking the common sense to even distinguish between "natural glutamate" and "evil added MSG" as most MSG paranoids do. From this point, her analysis goes downhill.

OMG, MSG is in asparagus and apple pie!

She claims that glutamine occurs in several fruits, while glutamic acid is found in several other foods.


Structure of Glutamine
Note the "NH2" on the left side.
Found in all protein.
Not especially tasty in free form.

Wrong! Glatamic acid and glutamine are in fact two different amino acids, which is why biochemists cleverly thought to name them different things. Glutamine is an amide of glutamic acid, meaning that it has a amide group instead of the carboxylic acid group in glutamic acid. Unlike free glutamic acid/MSG, free glutamine does not have flavor-enhancing properties.

Both compounds are among the 20 amino acids that form all life on earth. Therefore, both compounds exist in practically every meal you eat! Now go freak out (or not—it's up to you).

This sort of misunderstanding seems to be common among the MSG paranoids. Several years ago, a vegan message board poster invented a persistent urban legend by concluding that the flavor enhancer disodium guanylate (aka GMP) was bat feces—apparently because "guano" sounds kind of like "guanylate." In fact, guanylate is the phosphate of guanosine, one of the four nucleosides that make up the rungs and ladders of DNA—which is obviously found in all living organisms. GMP is not made from bat guano, which is more than can be said for the bogus assertion.

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