The website – created by the Savory Taste Alliance – a coalition of yeast extract suppliers including members of the European Association for Specialty Yeast Products, explains that all yeast extracts are effectively ‘autolyzed’ whereby active baker’s yeast (a single celled microorganism) is heated up such that enzymes naturally present within it ‘self-digest,’ or break the cell wall, enabling yeast to be released. Afterwards, extracts are separated from the cell walls via a centrifuge.
In practical terms, therefore, there is no difference between ‘autolyzed yeast extract’ – an ingredient some high-profile retailers and foodservice brands including Panera, Kroger (Simple Truth), and Aldi (Simply Nature) prohibit - and ‘yeast extract,’ which most retailers accept, said Gene Grabowski, a partner at PR agency kglobal and the spokesperson for the Savory Taste Alliance.
“You actually can’t make a yeast extract without autolysis, but you don’t have to use the term ‘autolyzed’ on the label,” said Grabowski, who noted that Mintel new product launch data does show firms are slowly becoming less likely to use the word autolyzed on ingredients labels.
“If you call it ‘yeast extract,’ in many cases the same retailers/foodservice companies [that reject autolyzed yeast extracts] will accept it,” he told FoodNavigator-USA.
“The ingredient has been demonized because of the word ‘autolyzed,'" added Grabowksi, who said the website is intended as a source for consumers, bloggers, consultants, food writers, retailers and food manufacturers.
‘Ongoing confusion and misinformation’
The initiative came about to address “ongoing confusion and misinformation, frankly, about yeast extract, with activists going to restaurants and manufacturers and asking them to remove it from formulations,” he added.
“Some go back to suppliers requesting more information, but some respond to that pressure by adding it to their ‘no no’ lists, for no good reason.”
Yeast extract is a simple vegan ingredient that can also help manufacturers reduce sodium (as it has a savory, umami flavor), making its addition on some industry unacceptable lists particularly frustrating for suppliers, he claimed: “Research shows that most consumers have no opinion about yeast extract, and when you give them information, they are fine with it. A lot of the confusion has to do with the word ‘autolyzed.’”
Focus groups conducted by one Savory Taste Alliance member showed that consumers believed autolyzed yeast extracts were “more processed,” “chemical” and “artificial’ than ‘baker’s yeast extracts,' although they are exactly the same thing, added a spokeswoman.
"We advise customers to use the term ‘baker’s yeast extract’ on labels, as it is both accurate and consumer-friendly."
Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
But what about MSG? Are companies using yeast extract as a way to ‘hide’ MSG from labels? According to the FDA, although such yeast extracts “do not contain MSG itself, they contain ingredients with concentrations of free glutamate [the anionic form of glutamic acid, an amino acid naturally present in parmesan cheese, tomatoes, and mushrooms] that function as flavor enhancers like MSG.”
As such, foods containing yeast extract “cannot claim ‘No MSG’ on food labels,” although they don’t have to proactively label MSG either, as glutamate is a “natural constituent of the food,” says the agency.
‘If activists are going after yeast extract for its ‘hidden’ MSG, they should be going after parmesan cheese’
So does this mean that shoppers are being misled, and formulators are using yeast extracts to 'sneak in' MSG without having to label it?
No, argues the Savory Taste Alliance member, who explains that MSG is a highly concentrated glutamate salt (100% sodium glutamate) added to foods as a flavor enhancer, whereas yeast extract contains low levels (typically at around 5%) of glutamic acid, which is not the same thing.
So why does the FDA say that yeast extract naturally contains MSG?
“Truthfully the FDA wording is outdated, it should say glutamic acid rather than glutamate," said the source. "It’s misleading and we’re talking to them about clearing this up, but to explain, many ingredients contain glutamic acid, from soy protein and hydrolyzed vegetable proteins, to cheese and tomatoes. Essentially it’s a weak acid, so it will react with other positive ions – whether it’s potassium, or sodium, to form glutamates, so you could technically get a low level of sodium glutamate if there's some sodium in there, but there’s less than 5% glutamic acid in yeast extract, which is far less than you get in parmesan cheese, so the levels are very low.
“If activists are going after yeast extract for its ‘hidden’ MSG, they should be going after parmesan cheese, which contains far more glutamic acid than yeast extract.”
The source added: “It’s not really the glutamic acid in yeast extract that is responsible for the flavor enhancement, it’s all the other nucleotides and amino acids that build that complex flavor enhancement.”
MSG sales still growing, says Ajinomoto
As for MSG, despite the negative PR, sales are still growing in North America, claimed Ryan Smith, SVP at leading supplier Ajinomoto North America.
“We’ve seen a lot of interest in delivering umami through MSG because it delivers amazing results – the best results in blind taste tests - and sales are still growing. 2017 was a record production year for us.”
What does the FDA say about MSG?
“Over the years, FDA has received reports of symptoms such as headache and nausea after eating foods containing MSG. However, we were never able to confirm that the MSG caused the reported effects.
“These adverse event reports helped trigger FDA to ask the independent scientific group Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) to examine the safety of MSG in the 1990s. FASEB’s report concluded that MSG is safe.
“The FASEB report identified some short-term, transient, and generally mild symptoms, such as headache, numbness, flushing, tingling, palpitations, and drowsiness that may occur in some sensitive individuals who consume 3 grams or more of MSG without food. However, a typical serving of a food with added MSG contains less than 0.5 grams of MSG. Consuming more than 3 grams of MSG without food at one time is unlikely.” Read more HERE.