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MSG vs. Gluten: The Confusion Stops Here

By November 7, 2014May 29th, 2024MSG
MSG is Gluten Free

MSG Does NOT Contain Gluten

“Gluten-free.” It’s hard to have avoided these words in writing or in conversation over the last few years, especially since the term has become an increasingly popular diet trend to follow. In fact, information about gluten in our foods and how it has the potential to impact health remains one of the “hottest” topics in health and nutrition. Some people who limit gluten in their diets are formally diagnosed by a health care professional (e.g., they may have celiac disease) and others may be avoiding gluten based on a self-diagnosed concern about adverse effects from gluten. In any case, I certainly don’t intend to address the potential health effects of gluten in this blog. This blog is here to explain why gluten has no association to monosodium glutamate whatsoever, and why comparing the two is just like saying there’s gluten in glucose. And we all know that isn’t true.

For those individuals who want to avoid gluten in their diets, let me make this clear: monosodium glutamate (MSG) and gluten are not one and the same.

Misinformation about MSG claiming it’s a source of gluten most likely stems back to when glutamate was discovered a century ago. When scientists were first exploring the “umami” flavor that glutamate, one of the most common amino acids found in our bodies, could have, they “extracted” glutamate from protein sources such as kelp and wheat protein. (Going back to Science 101, hopefully you will recall that different types of amino acids are the building blocks of protein.) After much evaluation and scientific reasoning, these very scientists determined that combining sodium with glutamate would result in an excellent flavor enhancer, hence the name “monosodium glutamate.”

Today, MSG is made by the fermentation of starches. It is not made from wheat. As you are probably aware, many common foods such as yogurt, beer, vinegar, soy sauce and two of my favorites — sauerkraut and pickles—are produced by fermentation. American-made MSG uses Iowa corn as its starting ingredient, but in other countries molasses, sugar beets, sugar cane or tapioca may be used.

So forget about what you might have heard and just know this: MSG does not contain gluten, and you’re still “gluten free” with MSG.

Also, here’s what the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has to say about MSG and gluten (as part of their official Q&A on MSG for consumers):

Q: “Does glutamate in a product mean it contains gluten? 

A: No – glutamate or glutamic acid have nothing to do with gluten. A person with Celiac disease may react to the wheat that may be present in soy sauce, but not to the MSG in the product.”

For more information on the discovery and history of MSG, you can read about it here.


Kaye is an author and consulting nutritionist with more than 15 years’ experience representing clients in the food industry, providing strategic leadership and consulting on meal planning, recipe development, consumer-focused educational materials relating to food and nutrition, science-based communications, and media relations. Read more about her background on the About page.

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