Is Monosodium Glutamate Gluten-Free? (Yes, Here’s Why)

Is Monosodium Glutamate Gluten-Free

One of the many food additives that draw debate and controversy is monosodium glutamate, often referred to as just MSG. Monosodium glutamate provides a unique flavor which is why it’s present in many processed foods as well as fast food. While it’s notorious for being in Chinese food, monosodium glutamate can be hidden in other types of fast food and processed foods. Monosodium glutamate might sound like it contains gluten, but does it?

Monosodium glutamate is gluten-free. It’s made by fermenting sugars or starch and is related to glutamic acid, a naturally-occurring amino acid. However, monosodium glutamate is a highly controversial ingredient. The best healthier alternatives to monosodium glutamate that are also gluten-free include Good & Gather Umami Seasoning Blend, Takii Pure Umami Powder, and McCormick Umami Seasoning with Mushrooms and Garlic Onion.

There is a lot to unpack with monosodium glutamate, so keep reading to learn more about this controversial food additive.

What is monosodium glutamate?

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a flavor enhancer often used in Chinese dishes. It’s also used in various types of savory cuisine, including other types of fast food and processed foods. MSG is made by fermenting starches or sugars.

Monosodium glutamate’s flavor is recognized as “umami” which is accepted as a fifth taste sensation besides sweet, salty, bitter, and sour.

Is MSG high in sodium?

It’s a common misconception that MSG is high in sodium. MSG contains 2/3 less sodium than table salt and is described as tasteless on its own.

MSG is commonly added to high-sodium foods like fast food/restaurant food, chips/snack foods, seasoning blends, frozen entrees, canned soups, instant noodles, and condiments.

MSG vs. glutamate/glutamic acid

Glutamate is an amino acid necessary for building proteins and is made from glutamic acid. Glutamate is the most abundant neurotransmitter in your nervous system. Some foods are naturally rich in glutamate, such as:

  • Parmesan cheese
  • Tomatoes
  • Scallops
  • Corn
  • Mushrooms
  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Shrimp

Monosodium glutamate is the sodium salt of glutamic acid. When MSG is dissolved in water it separates into sodium and free glutamate.

Is monosodium glutamate bad for you?

Monosodium glutamate is a controversial food ingredient. Scientific studies are contradictory with some saying MSG is safe and some saying it might be toxic.  Here’s what some studies on MSG have concluded so far:

  • A review of studies on MSG in 2006 said that there is inconsistent data to support the idea that MSG causes adverse symptoms like headaches, asthma triggers, dry mouth, and flushing.
  • A study published in 2017 concluded that “high-quality MSG is safe for all life cycle stages without respect to ethnic origin or culinary background”.
  • A study in 2018 notes that “different studies have hinted at possible toxic effects” of MSG including nervous system disorders, obesity, disruptions in fat tissue physiology, liver damage, and reproductive malfunctions. The authors concluded that “If more substantive evidence of MSG-toxicity would be provided, a total ban on the use of MSG as a flavor enhancer would not be unwise to consider.”
  • A 2018 study on rats fed MSG found that MSG induced obesity and high blood pressure.
  • A 2019 review of studies on MSG notes that many of the studies were poorly designed which alters the reliability of the results. “…many of the reported negative health effects of MSG have little relevance for chronic human exposure and are poorly informative as they are based on excessive dosing that does not meet with levels normally consumed in food products.

    That means that the amount of MSG used in animal studies might be significantly higher than the amount you’d likely eat when MSG is used as a food additive.

What are the potential side effects of eating MSG?

MSG is “generally recognized as safe” by the Food and Drug Administration. However, there have been several anecdotal reports to the FDA of adverse symptoms from eating MSG. Some of the symptoms people have reported after eating monosodium glutamate include:

  • Headache
  • Flushing
  • Sweating
  • Facial pressure or tightness
  • Numbness, tingling, or burning in the face, neck, and other areas
  • Rapid, fluttering heartbeats (heart palpitations)
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Weakness

MSG symptom complex

Also called “Chinese restaurant syndrome”, reports of reactions to eating foods with MSG first occurred in 1968. MSG was thought to be the culprit, but studies have since been inconclusive about the impact MSG has on negative symptoms.

What are the health risks of a high-sodium diet?

To reiterate, monosodium glutamate itself is not rich in sodium, despite its name. MSG is added to many high-sodium and processed foods, though.

The recommended amount of sodium per day is less than 2,300 milligrams per day, yet the average American consumes 3,400 milligrams of sodium.

Table salt (sodium chloride) is the most prevalent source of sodium in most diets. Sodium isn’t the same thing as table salt, but table salt contains sodium.

Excessive sodium intake can be problematic for health conditions such as:

  • High blood pressure – eating a lot of sodium causes your body to hold on to more fluid, which can raise your blood pressure. High blood pressure can cause your arteries to stiffen and contribute to developing heart disease.
  • Kidney disease – high blood pressure causes your kidneys to work harder to filter blood. Excessive sodium intake makes the kidneys work harder due to increased fluid retention and/or high blood pressure.
  • Congestive heart failure – people with heart failure might be prescribed a fluid restriction to help prevent further fluid accumulation.

Are there alternatives to using MSG?

As mentioned earlier, some foods are naturally rich in the amino acid from which MSG is made. This means that natural MSG alternatives might contain mushrooms and other glutamate-rich food ingredients.

Soy sauce, fish sauce, and oyster sauce are all high in glutamate, so they are also good alternatives to MSG and provide a similar taste.

Monosodium Glutamate Nutrition Facts

Ajinomoto Umami Super Seasoning


  • Corn Glucose

Nutrition facts (per 1/4 teaspoon):

  • Calories: 0
  • Total Fat: 0 g
  • Sodium: 125 mg (5% DV)
  • Total Carbohydrate: 0 g
  • Protein: 0 g

Spice Supreme M.S.G. Monosodium Glutamate

Ingredients: not provided

Nutrition facts (per 1/4 teaspoon):

  • Calories: 0
  • Total Fat: 0 g
  • Sodium: 125 mg (5% DV)
  • Total Carbohydrate: 0 g
  • Protein: 0 g

Accent Flavor Enhancer


  • Monosodium Glutamate

Nutrition facts (per 1/8 teaspoon):

  • Calories: 0
  • Total Fat: 0 g
  • Sodium: 60 mg (3% DV)
  • Total Carbohydrate: 0 g
  • Protein: 0 g

First Street MSG Monosodium Glutamate


  • Monosodium Glutamate

Nutrition facts (per 1/4 teaspoon):

  • Calories: 0
  • Total Fat: 0 g
  • Sodium: 125 mg (5% DV)
  • Total Carbohydrate: 0 g
  • Protein: 0 g

Alternatives to monosodium glutamate

Good & Gather Umami Seasoning Blend


  • Sea Salt
  • Onion
  • Ground Mustard Seeds
  • Porcini Mushroom Powder
  • White Button Mushrooms
  • Crushed Red Pepper
  • Black Pepper
  • Thyme Leaves

Nutrition facts: not available

Trader Joe’s Mushroom and Company Multipurpose Umami Seasoning Blend

Trader Joe’s Mushroom & Company Multipurpose UMAMI Seasoning Blend NET WT. (2 Packs) 2.1 OZ Ingredients:

  • Kosher Salt
  • Dried Onions
  • Ground Mustard Seed
  • Porcini Mustard Powder
  • White Button Mushroom Powder
  • Crushed Red Pepper
  • Black Pepper
  • Dried Thyme

Nutrition facts (per 1/4 teaspoon):

  • Calories: 0
  • Total Fat: 0 g
  • Sodium: 140 mg (6% DV)
  • Total Carbohydrate: 0 g
  • Protein: 0 g

Takii Pure Umami Powder

Takii Pure Umami Powder (4.4 Lbs Bulk) Ingredients:

  • Shiitake Mushrooms
  • Salt
  • Mushroom Extract
  • Calcium Carbonate

Nutrition facts (per 1/2 teaspoon):

  • Calories: 0
  • Total Fat: 0 g
  • Sodium: 260 mg (11% DV)
  • Total Carbohydrate: 0 g
  • Protein: 0 g

McCormick Umami Seasoning with Mushrooms and Garlic Onion

McCormick Umami Seasoning with Mushrooms and Garlic Onion, 10.5 oz Ingredients:

  • Salt
  • Mustard Bran
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Paprika
  • Black Garlic Powder
  • Shiitake Mushroom
  • Chilean Mushroom
  • Parsley
  • Sunflower Oil
  • Tomato Powder
  • Basil
  • Black Pepper
  • Marjoram
  • Sulfiting Agents

Nutrition facts (per 1/4 teaspoon):

  • Calories: 0
  • Total Fat: 0 g
  • Sodium: 100 mg (4% DV)
  • Total Carbohydrate: 0 g
  • Protein: 0 g

Thrive Market Organic Tamari Gluten-Free Soy Sauce


  • Organic Tamari Soy Sauce (Water, Organic Soybeans, Sea Salt, Organic Roasted Soybeans)
  • Salted Shochu (Water, Organic Rice, Salt)

Nutrition facts (per 1 tbsp.):

  • Calories: 10
  • Total Fat: 0 g
  • Sodium: 890 mg (39% DV)
  • Total Carbohydrate: <1 g
  • Total Sugars: 0 g
  • Protein: 2 g

Better Than Bouillon Beef Soup Base

Better Than Bouillon Vegetarian No Beef Base, Made with Seasoned Vegetables, Certified Vegan, Makes 9.5 Quarts of Broth, 38 Servings, 8-Ounce Jar (Pack of 1) Ingredients:

  • Roasted Beef With Concentrated Beef Stock
  • Salt
  • Hydrolyzed Soy Protein
  • Sugar
  • Corn Syrup Solids
  • Flavoring
  • Yeast Extract
  • Dried Whey (Milk)
  • Potato Flour
  • Caramel Color
  • Corn Oil
  • Xanthan Gum

Nutrition facts (per 1 tbsp.):

  • Calories: 10
  • Total Fat: 0 g
  • Sodium: 680 mg (28% DV)
  • Total Carbohydrate: 1 g
  • Protein: 1 g

Bottom line

Monosodium glutamate is a popular additive in processed foods and Chinese/Asian restaurant meals. Monosodium glutamate is lower in sodium than table salt but is often paired with salt to enhance the savory/umami flavor.

Studies on the potential health consequences of eating monosodium glutamate are inconclusive. The bottom line is that you should avoid eating monosodium glutamate if you feel negative symptoms shortly after consuming monosodium glutamate. However, there is a lack of consistent evidence that MSG causes harm in humans at this time.

Related Questions

Is monosodium glutamate in all Chinese food?

Not all Chinese food contains monosodium glutamate. Be sure to ask the staff at the restaurant if they use MSG if you’re concerned.

A side note – Panda Express (a popular fast-food Chinese chain) doesn’t use monosodium glutamate in its food. Kentucky Fried Chicken does use monosodium glutamate in its chicken sandwich. This goes to show that MSG might be hidden in fast food other than Chinese food.

Is monosodium glutamate addictive?

There isn’t any evidence that monosodium glutamate is addictive. MSG is often paired with high-sodium ingredients which might cause you to crave saltier foods as you get used to a high-sodium diet.

Is monosodium glutamate salt?

Even though it has sodium in the name, monosodium glutamate isn’t salt. It’s often paired with table salt in foods, so you might assume it’s salt. Monosodium glutamate is described as “tasteless” on its own, so the salty flavor you might associate with MSG isn’t from MSG itself.

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Diana Gariglio-Clelland

Diana Gariglio-Clelland is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist. She obtained her Bachelor's in Nutrition from the University of Idaho in 2012 and has worked in clinical, community, and primary care nutrition settings. She currently works as a freelancer on various health- and nutrition-related projects.

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