Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What's in my...? Beef: Autolyzed Yeast Extract

I can't figure out Taco Bell's nutrition website. Under the Food Allergens & Sensitivities section, the only foods that are linked to MSG (monosodium glutamate) are the Frutista Freezes, which are "prepared in common equipment" to another food that contains MSG. Putting aside the thought that I don't know what kind of equipment a fast food restaurant might use that would somehow prepare both a fruit smoothie and something that would benefit from MSG (I'm assuming I'm the only one wonky enough to use an immersion blender on my beef!) nothing else on the menu is listed as either containing MSG or being prepared on the same equipment as an MSG-containing food. My best guess is that the MSG mystery happens somewhere at Ye Olde Frutista Freeze Factory, but anyway, that doesn't change my point that much of Taco Bell's food kinda sorta does contain the bad component of MSG anyway, even though they don't mention it.

One of the ingredients in Taco Bell's seasoned ground beef is autolyzed yeast extract. Sounds okay, right? Extracts are good…peppermint, vanilla. Yeast is usually pretty good; we certainly couldn't have bread without it, although I can't really think of a reason to toss it into my ground beef. Autolyzed is…automatic? Maybe?

It turns out that autolyzed yeast extract is created by applying salt or heat to yeast, and then processing an extract out of the resulting reaction. Free glutamic acid develops somewhere along the production line. As it turns out, free glutamic acid is the precise component of MSG that many people have strong sensitivities to. But the beef doesn't technically contain monosodium glutamate (and there's no column for free glutamic acid) so Taco Bell doesn't have to flag the ingredient in the food sensitivities section. So does Taco bell use autolyzed yeast extract instead of MSG because it's the best ingredient for that authentic Mexican flavor, or because they don't have to mention MSG specifically? Considering the implied health benefit of being "MSG free," I'm going to go with the latter. If you want to find out what other Taco Bell products include free glutamates, check out this interesting article from MSG Exposed. It's in practically everything!

For now, I won't get into whether MSG is something you want to eat regularly...some people love it, but many experience extreme symptoms like headaches, numbness and shortness of breath when they consume it. I don't think I have any sensitivities to MSG personally, but since salt and spices do a perfectly fine job of flavoring food in my opinion, I tend to avoid it (in all forms!) 

Photo used under Creative Commons from caffeina.


  1. that picture makes me miss new york

  2. Wow... Pretty tricky move by Taco Bell. Good detective work Diana!