…or at least it’s starting to feel that way. I swear it crops up in at least half the products I’ve obnoxiously checked since being tipped off by Mom. I did a little research on how they manufacture it; in some versions, yeast cells are exposed to a sodium chloride (salt) bath, which causes the poor little things to start pushing out all their water in a sort of extreme reverse osmosis. They blow themselves out— it’s called plasmoysis and looks a little like this:
I really hoped there’d be a decent informational yeast extract piece I could link to, but I got really disheartened from searching when the top thing on YouTube was a toast speed-painter’s tribute to Vegemite.
I sure do hate the Internet sometimes.
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.
I’ve had an unfortunate little flurry of half-skulledness and noticed that all the recent episodes have occurred in close proximity to cheese. Being a good scientist, I’m going to start running experiments in removing things from my diet for a week. Hence: no cheese. It’s already impinging on my lifestyle; I’ve been standing in the kitchen trying to decide what to add to my turkey and mushroom tortilla roll-up for lunch.
I came to the computer for a) inspiration and b) to see if youtube had any videos of scintillating scotoma, so I can stop trying to describe it to people. It does— of varying quality. I think the two below come the closest to capturing mine (monochrome, usually a thin line surrounded by a sort of oscillating fan pattern— that second video is close enough to make me distinctly uncomfortable watching it).