In this brief article we will answer the question, “does nutritional yeast have MSG?” We will also give you some important information about nutritional yeast, its benefits and nutrient profile, and will address some facts about MSG.
Does Nutritional Yeast Have MSG?
Yes, nutritional yeast does contain MSG (monosodium glutamate) or free glutamic acid. But it is not added by manufacturers intentionally; it is naturally produced during the manufacturing process. Nutritional yeast can be used, therefore, as a natural flavor enhancer of food (1).
So when food labels state ‘no MSG added’, this is actually misleading – the product might contain MSG. Chemically, MSG is a salt, while glutamic acid is a widespread amino acid present in foodstuffs as the free and protein-bound form. Foods containing large amounts of glutamic acid are tomatoes, mushrooms and cheese. Only the free form of Glu, in its L-configuration, presents flavor enhancing properties, and, for this reason, it is widely used as a flavor enhancer in the food industry, particularly in the form of the monosodium salt (2).
What Is Nutritional Yeast And How Is It Made?
Nutritional yeast or nooch, is a deactivated yeast generally made from the strain Saccharomyces cerevisiae. It is commercially sold as a food product in the form of granules, yellow flakes, or powder. Yeasts are fungi that are used in applications in fermentation, food, feed, agricultural, biofuel, medical, and chemical industries. Examples of products which depend on yeast fermentation are beer, wine, and bread. They have been used for production of fermented food for at least as long as 7000 BC. Yeast biomass from so-called nutritional yeasts is heat inactivated and the cells are killed and dried (3).
The distinct savory flavor of nutritional yeast which resembles cheese makes it an excellent alternative to salt, fats, and sugar. Certain people claim that it gives a nutty flavor to dishes.
Nutritional yeast is produced in extremely controlled laboratories where the common yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae is made to grow on a nutrient-deficient food. The latter could be sugar cane, wood pulp, or beet molasses (normally genetically modified). Since the yeast does not have an external supply of nutrients, it produces its own.
Once the process is done, manufacturers dry the yeast and preserve the nutrients. Companies often fortify nutritional yeast with vitamins such as vitamin B12and folic acid.
Only two companies in the United States (Trim Healthy Mama and Sari) produce a non-genetically-modified and non-vitamin-fortified form of nutritional yeast.
Nutritional Value And Benefits
Nutritional yeast is undoubtedly a powerhouse of nutrients. Yeast biomass contains fats, carbohydrates, nucleic acids, vitamins, and minerals. It is rich in certain essential amino acids, such as lysine and methionine, which are limited in most plant and animal foods. The major components of S. cerevisiae biomass—that is, β-glucans, may induce a dual-way immunomodulatory activity: they enhance immune reaction (i.e., they exert a prophylactic effect against common cold infections), and on the other side—they may diminish inflammation (3).
Just two tablespoons of this product contains:
- 6 grams of Protein: Nutritional yeast contains high-quality, plant-based, protein free from dairy, wheat, soy, gluten, corm, and sugar. This makes it the perfect source of nutrition for people on dietary restrictions and/or those suffering from food allergies.
- 2 grams of Fiber: The recommended dietary fiber intake set by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 is 25 grams for adult women and 38 grams for adult men. Fiber regulates digestive processes, maintains the population of healthy bacteria in our gut, regulates blood sugar, and reduces high blood pressure.
- Copious amounts of B-vitamins: B vitamins help breakdown carbohydrates to produce fuel for energy. They also maintain proper functioning of the nervous system. Nutritional yeast is particularly fortified with vitamin B12 (cobalamin) which is required for cell division and blood cell formation.
What Is The Difference between Nutritional Yeast And Regular Yeast?
Nutritional yeast is deactivated yeast used, particularly by vegans, to mimic the flavor of Parmesan cheese and to thicken sauces. It can be used as an addition to the main diet, thus it has a wide amino acid spectrum and a high protein:carbohydrate ratio (3).
On the other hand, regular yeast is activated dry yeast commonly used in baking as a leavening agent.
They are not interchangeable ingredients.
What Is MSG?
MSG is a well-known flavor enhancer and excitotoxin. The latter overstimulate neuron receptors and heighten experiences, such as taste in the case of MSG.
It’s umami properties were discovered by Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda while studying the distinct taste of seaweed. He discovered that the main culprit was a common amino acid (building blocks of protein) known as glutamate. Small quantities of glutamate used in combination with a reduced amount of table salt during food preparation allow for far less salt to be used during and after cooking (1).
Since it is one of the key components of most proteins, glutamate can naturally be found in most foods. Moreover, it is also produced by the body and has a vital role in human metabolism. Monosodium glutamate (MSG) contains a sodium atom which makes it easier to sprinkle on food. The body does not distinguish between glutamate from foods like tomatoes, or glutamate added to a tomato sauce. In fact, research showed that glutamate from food or glutamate is important for normal functioning of the digestive tract and digestion (1).
The glutamate present in nutritional yeast is attached to other proteins or amino acids. This makes it easier for the body to control how much needs to be absorbed and what will be excreted as waste.
Is MSG safe?
Not quite; 25 percent of the population has an adverse reaction to free glutamic acid, and that too within 48 hours of ingestion.However, the American Medical Association’s Council on Scientific Affairs, the National Academy of Sciences, and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) state that MSG, if consumed in controlled amounts, is safe.
MSG is absorbed into the bloodstream and the brain, bypassing the proper route of digestion. This results in side effects that are similar to certain pharmaceuticals. Moreover, MSG may cause long-term, neuro-degenerative damage, resembling that seen in Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease. Because glutamate is one of the most intensely studied food ingredients in the food supply and has been found safe, the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization placed it in the safest category for food additives. Despite a widespread belief that glutamate can elicit asthma, migraine and headache, there is no consistent clinical data to support this claim. In addition, findings from the literature indicate that there is no consistent evidence to suggest that individuals may be uniquely sensitive to glutamate (1).
There is still ongoing research on the effects and risks of consuming MSG, but for now we recommend using it carefully and in small quantities.
In this brief article we answered the question, “does nutritional yeast have MSG?” We also gave you some important information about nutritional yeast, its benefits and nutrient profile, and addressed some facts about MSG.
If you have any other questions or comments please let us know.
- Jinap, S., and P. Hajeb. Glutamate. Its applications in food and contribution to health. Appetite, 2010, 1, 1-10.
- Populin, Tiziana, et al. A survey on the presence of free glutamic acid in foodstuffs, with and without added monosodium glutamate. Food Chem, 2007, 104, 1712-1717.
- Jach, Monika E., and Anna Serefko. Nutritional yeast biomass: characterization and application. Diet, microbiome and health. Academic Press, 2018. 237-270.