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Some consumers and health food shops would like to see a ban on the use of yeast extracts in organic foods. But at the moment it would not be possible to make the switch to recipes free of yeast extracts for certain products – or at least, to do so would impair the flavour of the end product.

These are the findings of a research project which were presented at the BioFach World Organic Trade Fair in Nuremberg. The project was carried out by the Institute of Sustainable Nutrition of the Münster University of Applied Sciences at the instigation of BNN Herstellung und Handel (Organic Processors and Traders Association). Since it contains glutamic acid and glutamates, yeast extract is a point of contention, used as it is to lend a tangy taste to organic foods.


Since yeast extracts naturally contain glutamic acid or its salts (glutamates), it serves to enhance flavour – just as the additives of the same name do (known as E620 – E625). However, these ingredients are not permitted in organic foods. The group headed by Professor Carola Strassner of the Münster University of Applied Sciences wanted to find scientific evidence for or against the use of yeast extracts and to come up with appropriate alternatives for organic foods. But the lack of adequate data meant it was not possible to reach a definite position. Manufacturers of organic products also made different assessments of the alternatives to yeast extracts. The conclusion was that it would not be possible to stop using yeast extracts in all products just like that. Many other ingredients such as herbs, spices and salt would also have to be changed.

Manufacturers believe that certain products (such as crisps) could not be made without yeast extracts and maintain the same flavour. Almost half of the companies surveyed used (primarily conventional) yeast extracts in their products for reasons of taste. Other reasons given were to reduce the salt content and increase the B vitamins in the food. Other health food producers either do not use any yeast extracts or have switched or intend to switch to recipes which do not contain them. Some experts point out that organic yeast extract would be made from wheat, which would render the highly sought-after "gluten-free production" an impossibility.

The question still remains: do yeast extracts really represent a serious problem for consumers? Customers have already been enlisted to the “critical” side of the argument, although it is doubtful whether the suggested link between yeast extracts, glutamates and Alzheimer’s is really taking us down a safer path, or whether it is merely creating a general feeling of uncertainty.

According to Professor Strassner: “One of the most important questions that still needs to be answered is what the critical level of glutamic acid or glutamates in yeast extracts might be. We should not forget that these ingredients do occur naturally in other foods such as soya sauce or mature cheese.” So, what was the conclusion of the current findings and the debate in Nuremberg? Some companies have already modified their recipes and no longer use yeast extracts. Other companies are switching to organic yeast extract at the moment. The research project was unable to reach a clear scientific position for or against the use of yeast extracts in organic foods.

Source:, Britta Klein