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Monosodium Glutamate 101: What Foods Naturally Contain MSG?

By July 24, 2018May 29th, 2024MSG
glutamate in foods

Glutamate is an amino acid that is found in virtually every food.

It’s a big part of protein-rich foods like meat, eggs and cheese, but is also found in fruits and vegetables. And, it is what’s responsible for giving foods the umami (savory) flavor that makes them taste delicious.

Within food, glutamate is either attached to other amino acids in the form of a protein (bound) or by itself (free). The more free glutamate there is, the more umami flavor the food will have. There are a few variables that impact how much free glutamate is in a food. One is ripeness; the riper a fruit or vegetable is, the more free glutamate it will have. So, a deep red glossy tomato will have more free glutamate than a firm pale one. Another factor is the age of the food. Aging a food by curing or fermenting it increases the food’s free glutamate because over time the proteins break down to release the amino acids. For example, fresh pork has 10 mg of free glutamate, while cured ham has 337 mg. Free glutamate can also be added by seasoning a food with MSG (monosodium glutamate), an isolated purified form of glutamate.

Foods that are typically thought of as high in free glutamate include meat, fish, seafood, fermented sauces, aged cheeses, and some fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Below is a brief non-comprehensive list of some of the foods that naturally contain free glutamate. Because only free glutamate enhances the savory flavor of food, the numbers below show the amount of free glutamate (but not the bound) in each food.

Free Glutamate Content of Foods (mg/100g)


Anchovies (630)

Cured ham (337)

Mackerel (215)

Clams (210)

Scallops (159)

Oysters (137)

Egg yolks (46)

Shrimp (40)

Chicken (22)



Parmesan cheese (1680)

Roquefort cheese (1280)

Emmental cheese (310)

Cheddar cheese (182)


Fruits, Vegetables and Nuts

Dried shiitake mushrooms (1060)

Walnuts (658)

Dried tomatoes (650-1140)

Grape juice (258)

Tomatoes (246)

Kimchi (240)

Mushrooms (180)

Broccoli (176)

Green peas (106)

Corn (106)

Potatoes (102)

Chinese (Napa) cabbage (100)



Marmite (1960)

Vegemite (1430)

Fish sauce (1383)

Soy sauce (1264)

Oyster sauce (900)

Miso (200-700)

For additional lists of the glutamate content of food, check out Glutamate in Food.

Theresa is a dietitian in private practice who specializes in GI disorders and food allergies and intolerances. She is passionate about making nutrition fit within the constraints of the real world. Theresa previously spent years coaching heart patients at Emory University Hospital Midtown through lifestyle changes as well as teaching students at Oregon State University and Georgia State University the basics of nutrition. Read more about her background on the About page. Note: MSGdish bloggers are compensated for their time in writing for MSGdish, but their statements and opinions are their own. They have pledged to blog with integrity, asserting that the trust of their readers and their peers is vitally important to them.

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