Free glutamate intake in an urban and a rural area in the Philippines: a pilot study PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mildred A. Udarbe   

Glutamate or glutamic acid is a non-essential amino acid because the body can make its own supply. Glutamate is important to humans for its metabolic and brain function. It is found in abundance both in its “free” and “bound” form in practically all natural foods like meats, fish, cheese, milk and even breast milk, tomatoes, mushrooms, and other vegetables (Garattini, 2000, IFIC Review).


The “free form” (not bound with protein), of glutamate in foods is the one that intensifies, enhances or improves food flavors. Glutamate is also found in monosodium glutamate (MSG). MSG is the sodium salt of glutamate and is simply glutamate, water, and sodium. MSG is a white crystalline powder and rapidly dissociates into free sodium and glutamates when dissolved in water. MSG has been used by Asians as a flavor enhancer for many years in a variety of foods prepared at home, in restaurants, and by food processors. MSG is only one of several forms of free glutamates used in foods. However it is also contained in a wide variety of food additives, such as hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP), plant protein extract, sodium or calcium caseinate, yeast extract, autolyzed yeast, textured protein, malt flavoring or extract, bouillon, flavoring (natural or beef or chicken), and seasonings. 


Extensive researches on MSG for the past thirty years have been conducted and its use has been confirmed to be safe by the different scientific communities including the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) in 1988; European Scientific Committee for Food – Commission of the European Communities in 1991; and by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) in 1995. The “Acceptable Daily Intake” was established as “not specified”, which can be considered the most favorable designation for a food ingredient. Moreover, it was placed under the safest category of food additives. 



Despite the confirmed safety of MSG, consumers nowadays are still inhibiting or restricting the addition or use of MSG as well as the other flavor enhancers in their food or dishes. But are Filipinos aware of how much free glutamates they consume from their daily food intake? Do we know if there is any difference between the free glutamate intake of individuals from the rural and urban area? 


Recently, the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) as the Philippine counterpart together with other research institutions from Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, participated in the implementation of the Southeast Asian Regional Pilot Study on Free Glutamate Intake. The project leader for the Philippines was FNRI Director, Dr. Mario V. Capanzana. This project was administered by the Southeast Asian Association of Glutamate Science (SEAAGS) in ThailandThe objectives of the study were to determine the free glutamate content of commonly consumed foods as well as provide baseline data on free glutamate consumption in their respective countries. Data collection was conducted in an urban and rural area.  participated in the implementation of the Southeast Asian Regional Pilot Study on Free Glutamate Intake. with the financial assistance from the International Glutamate Technical Committee.


For the Philippines, data collection was done in Taguig City and Laguna, each representing an urban and rural area, respectively.  Children, 6-12 year old; adolescents, 13-18 year old; and adults, 19-71 year old were the respondents in this study. A food frequency questionnaire was used to determine the usual intake of the all the listed food items. Free glutamate were determined using the harmonized or prescribed (same procedure of analysis) method of analysis.


Results of the consumption data for both areas and age groups indicated that cereals and cereal products topped the list, with meat products and vegetables in the second and third, respectively. The researchers also noted that respondents from Laguna used more kinds or types of condiments and seasonings as compared with respondents from Taguig City. Among the condiments, soy sauce was the one that was mostly consumed in both areas. Data further showed that although MSG consumption was low (0.5g per capita per day), it is being used by almost fifty percent of the households.


All of the sixteen condiments and seasonings were analyzed for free glutamate content, except for commercial MSG, where the theoretical free glutamate content (78.62 grams per 100grams) was used. Free glutamate analyses revealed that only the banana catsup had no detectable amounts of free glutamate. The sauces and liquid seasonings were also found to contain free glutamate ranging from 0.25 -2.85 grams per 100 grams, while the powdered mix had high free glutamate (73.42 grams per 100 grams). Snack foods contained 0.05 – 1.38 gram free glutamate per 100 grams while canned foods had low free glutamate (0.05 -0.17 gram per 100 grams). Cooked dishes had nil to 0.77 gram per 100 grams and the cooked instant noodles had 0.11 – 0.49 gram per 100 grams free glutamate.


The researches found that the free glutamate intake from seasonings of Laguna respondents was slightly higher (0.295 gram per capita per day) as compared to that of Taguig City (0.215 gram per capita per day). Data further revealed that intakes were highest for the adolescent respondents in both areas (Laguna – 0.6111gram per capita per day; Taguig City – 0.791 gram per capita per day). On the contrary, the lowest free glutamate intake from foods was from the children (0.46 gram per capita per day) in Laguna and from the adults (0.6 gram per capita per day) in Taguig City. 


 The researchers further concluded that the diet of respondents in both the urban and rural areas contained lower levels of free glutamate intake as compared to  Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. It was recommended that a nationwide survey  covering different regions and ethnic groups be conducted in order to determine the level of exposure of households or consumers as affected by their food habits or food preferences. Also suggested is an evaluation of free glutamate levels of food dishes served in food establishments, fast foods, and Chinese restaurants.


             Results of the latest FNRI researches will be presented during the 34th Annual FNRI Seminar Series on July 15-16, 2008, FNRI Building, Bicutan, Taguig City. This year’s Seminar Series theme is “Sa wastong nutrisyon ni mommy, siguradong healthy si baby”. For the past 33 years, the Seminar Series has been an effective venue for showcasing the Institute’s recent food and nutrition researches and developed technologies.


             For more information on food and nutrition, write or call: Dr. Mario  V. Capanzana, Director, Food and Nutrition Research Institute, Department of Science and Technology, General Santos Avenue, Bicutan, Taguig City. Telephone/fax No: 837-3164 0r 837-2834; email: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it or This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it ; FNRI-DOST website:


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  Updated  July 2015
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