FREEGLUTAMATE - Intake of free glutamate

Last updated on 13-1-2023 by Jill Alexandre
Project duration:
February 1, 2021
January 31, 2023

In short

Glutamic acid is an amino acid naturally present in food as part of proteins or in its free form. Free glutamate can also be released through food processing as fermentation. This compound is known for its flavouring qualities and can be added to food : 

  • directly under the form of glutamate 
  • indirectly from ingredients rich in free glutamate (like protein hydrolysate or yeast extract). 

The total amount of free glutamate found in the population diet has to be broken down into its natural presence and the load from its usage as food additives. A new high throughput analytical method will be developed and applied on the most relevant food items to determine these different contributions.

Project description

To assess the dietary exposure to free glutamate (FGlu), significant challenges need to be overcome. The framework of this proposal will explore 

  • the natural presence of free glutamate 
  • the load from its usage as food additives

As it is impossible to distinguish between the different sources based on a chemical analytical method, it is crucial to carefully select the samples to analyse to enable this distinction.

Sample selection 
The selection of 600 food samples is based on data from the EFSA re-evaluation of glutamic acid and its salts. The contribution to exposure highlighted during their exposure assessment is the main criterion. Such data is combined with consumption data from the Belgian food consumption survey of 2014 and market shares of food products present on the Belgian market.

High throughput analytical method
One objective of this project is to develop a high throughput analytical method which

  • enables the analysis of a large number of samples 
  • applies to all relevant types of food commodities as FGlu is found in a very large variety of products
  • has to cover a wide range of concentrations. 

Two different analytical approaches will be explored and compared: enzyme-based and using liquid chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry.

Exposure assessment
The large generated occurrence data set will empower the exposure assessment study of Belgian population to free glutamate as it will be combined with consumption rates collected from the latest national survey to minimize related uncertainties. Different refined exposure scenarios will be carried out to assess : 

  • the total exposure to FGlu, 
  • the contribution of the food additives and other sources. 

Additionally, foods for infants and young children will also be analysed to estimate their exposure to FGlu.

Enhance food safety 
The success of the project will, in the long-term, enhance the capacity of the Belgian food safety authorities in fully implementing the EU system and therefore contributing to its sustainability. This is in direct line with the recommendations made by the European Court of Auditors in their latest 2019 report.

Associated Health Topics

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