What Is Autolyzed Yeast Extract?


It’s often said that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Similarly, glutamates, from all of their various sources, are equally destructive for those sensitive to the chemical additives, including MSG. Autolyzed yeast extract is a substantial source of glutamates, and is widely used as a flavor enhancer in many of the processed foods that we eat.

How It Works

Autolyzed yeast extract enhances food’s flavor. It works by chemically changing your taste buds. It contains a considerable amount of an enzyme called free glutamic acid, which enables taste buds to sense savory and meaty flavors more readily. Autolyzed yeast extract commonly added to snack foods like potato chips, corn chips or crackers and has gained wide popularity amongst manufacturers since the free glutamic acid enhances the seasoning and palatability of the product.

The Facts

Autolysis is a chemical process in which salt and live yeast interacts. The salt causes the live yeast to essentially self-destruct – the digestive enzymes in the yeast “eat” themselves. This creates an inactive yeast with an entirely different set of proteins. Further processing creates autolyzed yeast extract. Many processed foods contain the ingredient; but what few are aware of is that autolyzed yeast extract, with its hearty flavoring, is also an abundant source of glutamates. If you are sensitive to MSG, you will also be sensitive to autolyzed yeast extract, according to a report out of Columbia University.

How Glutamates Affect the Body

Glutamates affect multiple areas in the body. Some of the side effects include allergic response, high blood pressure, headache, damage to brain cells, taurine deficiency and resulting difficulties with the digestive system, ringing in the ears, irregular heartbeat, low blood sugar, retinal damage and asthma. MSG also seems to affect the hypothalamus, which regulates hunger, body temperature and the functioning of the pituitary gland, and in excessive amounts, can overstimulate nerve cells causing cell death. The pancreas is stimulated by glutamate and long term exposure may lead to Type 2 diabetes.

Symptoms and Side Effects

Some symptoms that people experience after being exposed to autolyzed yeast extract and MSG include sweating, flushed face, headache, numbness or tingling around the mouth, facial pressure, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, chest pain, weakness and nausea. Most people experience mild symptoms and do not require further treatment.

What Can You Do?

If you experience adverse reactions to autolyzed yeast extract, it’s important to avoid it. This becomes particularly tricky since glutamates naturally occur in many different foods including autolyzed yeast extract, hydrolyzed protein, sodium caseinate, calcium caseinate, textured protein, plant protein extract and yeast extract. This means taking extra time to read labels, understand the additives that are commonly used in foods and keep it simple. When you go out to a restaurant be sure to ask the waitress about whether they use MSG in their foods and be aware that many broths and sauces will likely contain “flavor enhancers” like autolyzed yeast extract. As much as possible, stick with whole foods and those that are minimally processed.

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