Glutamic Acid/Glutamate in Food Products
Glutamic acid and glutamate are the chemical names for two very similar substances. You consume glutamate when you eat proteins, or eat foods that have monosodium glutamate (MSG) added to them. Glutamic acid is the formal name for one of the 20 amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. Each amino acid has a central carbon atom, to which four different groups are bonded.
The suffix “ate” in chemistry indicates an acid has lost a hydrogen atom. When glutamic acid an acid, losses a hydrogen atom from its side chain, it becomes glutamate. In the human body, glutamic acid almost always exists as glutamate. Conditions in the body favor the loss of the hydrogen atoms from the glutamic acid.
Glutamate is a key compound in metabolism. Proteins are broken down by digestion into amino acids. Those serve as metabolic fuel to burn for cellular energy and disposal of nitrogen buildup in the body, a metabolic waste product of protein metabolism. The fact that Glutamate is formed in the human body is even more amazing then the natural occurrence of Glutamic acids and Glutamate in foods. The human body has more than 50 grams of Glutamate in it at all times. Every time we eat, an average of ten to twenty grams of bound and one gram of free Glutamic Acid are ingested.
We shouldn’t confuse naturally occurring Glutamic acid and Glutamate with the additive Monosodium Glutamate either! Glutamic acid is present in every food that contains protein, but it can only be tasted in its unbound form, Glutamate. All meats, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products contain high amounts of glutamic acid. Significant amounts of free glutamic acid can be found in soy sauce and the intense savory notes found in these types of foods are said to have an Umami taste. One of the five basic tastes that humans possess.
Yeast Extracts also contain high amounts of naturally occurring Glutamic acid. Since this amino acid occurs naturally in the yeast to begin with, it’s considered natural. Some Yeast Extracts like Ohly’s, Provesta 512 can even be labeled as “natural flavors”. Whereas Monosodium Glutamate consists of Glutamate in its isolated pure form and must be declared as a flavor enhancer.