In this day and age, it is becoming increasingly difficult to buy food that does not contain flavor enhancers. Flavour enhancers fall under the so-called food additives, which influence food in its properties, effects and characteristics. Flavour enhancers change or intensify the taste of the food. The best known among them is E621, the so-called artificial glutamate (also monosodium glutamate). Manufacturers are obliged to label this and all other substances on their products.
How do I recognise flavour enhancers in food?
You can recognise flavour enhancers by the E-number 600. All other E-numbers stand for other substances. Here you will find a rough overview of the most important E600 numbers in the food industry.
- E620-625 Glutamic acid and glutamates
- E626-629 Guanylic acid and guanylates
- E630-633 Inosic acid and inosinates
- E634-635 Calcium and disodium 5'-rinonucleotide
- E640 Glycine and its sodium salts
- E650 Zinc acetate
We do not want to train you as a chemist, but only to give you a small overview with the help of examples. The most used flavour enhancer is glutamate (E620-625). It is mainly added to dry soups, fish and meat products. Salty dishes get a meaty-spicy taste thanks to glutamate. You will also find it in seasonings and broths.
The flavour enhancers E626-629 have a similar effect to glutamate. In comparison, the effect is even up to 20 times more intense. Guanylates are often used in combination with glutamates to enhance the taste experience. Just like guanylic acid and guanylates, inosine acid can be found in curry ketchup, crisps, sauce powder, packet soups and ready-made sauces. There they are partly used together with glutamate. In liquid foods (e.g. soups, sauces, etc.) E634-635 can artificially round off the taste of meat and make it taste less watery. Glycine is mostly found in sweeteners. It tastes slightly sweet and is supposed to mask the often bitter aftertaste. Zinc acetate may be added in limited quantities to chewing gum, for example.
Why are flavour enhancers used?
Flavour enhancers can be present in almost any food. As already mentioned, they are used to intensify the taste of the product, to make it more interesting or to suppress unpleasant tastes. Especially products from which water is removed and which are preserved by e.g. freezing or heat lose their taste. Flavour enhancers are used to try to compensate for this. You will mainly find them in convenience foods, regardless of whether the product comes from a bag, can, refrigerator or freezer. By masking the taste of food, flavour enhancers may tempt food producers to use inferior products. This does not mean, however, that flavour enhancers are present in all ready-made products and that producers are selling inferior goods. These are concerns of consumers on this topic.
Flavour enhancers in restaurants: In addition to some foodstuffs in supermarkets, glutamate can also be used in restaurants in the preparation of food. Public restaurants are obliged by law to disclose the use of flavour enhancers.
As glutamate is the most commonly used flavour enhancer, we will mainly deal with this substance in the following lines. Umami is the name of the rather unknown fifth flavour, in addition to the four typical ones: sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Umami means delicious and tastes spicy. This flavour was first detected in Japan and is caused by glutamates, among other things. The enhancing ingredient has a direct effect on the receptors of your taste buds. Food that contains glutamate is often perceived as particularly delicate .
Natural foods with glutamate
What many people are not aware of is that glutamate is not just an artificial additive. It also occurs naturally. You'll find glutamate in cheeses like Gorgonzola, Roquefort or Parmesan. As a rule, the older or more mature a cheese is, the more it contains. The substance can also be found in fish, meat or Legumesthe substance can be found, to name just a few examples. There are researchers:inside who assume that our body has a preference for the taste of umami to ensure an adequate supply of protein. The reason for this is that foods that naturally contain glutamate are usually very high in protein. Others believe that umami receptors in the gut determine the quality of the food. They assume that the body thinks: the more intense the umami taste, the more qualitative the food.
The Chinese Restaurant Syndrome
Back to artificially produced glutamate. Perhaps you have heard of the so-called Chinese restaurant syndrome? It happens every now and then that people talk about feeling unwell after eating Asian food. There are scientists who believe it is possible that the artificial flavour enhancer glutamate is the trigger for the intolerance reactions, as it is often used in Asian restaurants. However, no scientific link has yet been established. In Asia, similar reactions to glutamate are rather unknown.
Alzheimer, Parkinson and Co.?
Glutamate is not only found in food. This substance is also formed naturally in your body. The substance is an important messenger in the brain. Accordingly, some researchers suspect that the additional intake of artificial glutamate can have a negative effect on diseases such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease. The reason for the assumption comes from the fact that in these diseases, the amount of natural glutamate in the body is altered. However, it has not yet been possible to determine whether when glutamate is consumed through food intake, the substance actually reaches the brain. To date, there is no evidence that artificial glutamate could have a damaging effect on nerves. Even in Asia, where the flavor enhancer is more commonly used, there have not been more cases of diseases like Alzheimer's.
Does artificial glutamate make you fat?
Some believe the flavor enhancer glutamate may entice you to eat more food than you normally would. Under certain circumstances, this can lead to obesity. So far, however, there is no conclusive proof, as studies have led to different results. It has only been found that the umami taste stimulates both the feeling of fullness and the appetite.
Flavor Enhancers - Our Bottom Line:
There are a lot of different flavor enhancers in the food industry. Artificially produced glutamate is the most commonly used and has the flavor umami. Glutamate is also found in natural form in certain foods. According to current knowledge, artificial glutamate in food is harmless to health. Nevertheless, overreactions can occasionally occur when glutamate is consumed, such as in the case of Chinese restaurant syndrome. Accordingly, experts recommend to cook mainly with fresh ingredients. The statement of the German Society for Nutrition (DGE) reads as follows: "With normal nutrition(...) no harmful influence is to be expected in healthy people(...). Nevertheless, it cannot yet be ruled out that there are people who react sensitively to glutamate. Here, the DGE recommends paying special attention to the labeling of food, or to avoid foods that contain glutamate."