While I was telling my father about my delicious refried-beans-and-fake-meat dinner, my mother cautioned in the background that fake-meat patties have MSG in them. Knowing full well such a bold claim requires rapid verification, I headed to the kitchen and checked the package. The scariest sounding thing I found was something named methylcellulose (a chemically inert emulsifier, it turns out). I noticed an “autolyzed yeast extract” but chose not to mention it. Sure enough, I soon heard Mom in the background mentioning yeast extracts. I rebuffed it after a quick Google, suggesting that the (to me, scarier sounding) “hydrolyzed” yeast extracts were probably the worser threat.

Mea culpa, Mom. All yeast extracts may contain free glutamic acid, the crystalline solid salt of which would be monosodium glutamate, MSG. Free glutamic acid is prevalent in parmesan cheese, soy sauce and grape juice— parmesan cheese, for example, has 1200 mg per 100 grams. It looks like (from this Wikipedia page) like hydrolyzed yeast extracts have 5000 to 20000 mg per 100 grams, so at least I got the point on the “hydrolyzed sounds worse.” But yes, autolyzed yeast extract appears to contain MSG. I’ll write more about it in the future (it is pretty strang esounding) but, really, the process and product itself don’t seem any worse than anything else in modern industrial food, though. For example— Vegemite is pretty much entirely yeast extract and flavor. Looks like the only way to get by is sticking to a pure Bovril diet.

They changed it to yeast extract for a while but, don’t worry— it’s back to beef.

Update: Just checked my email to see the note my Mom sent at 7:23 pm, blockquoting this Wisegeek article. It even mentions Vegemite. I feel like Principle Skinner.