FAQ

Unless you live in the UK or one of its commonwealth countries the chances are high that you have never tasted yeast extract before. In the commonwealth countries people put a savoury yeast extract spread on their sandwiches. In other countries yeast extract is not available for consumers in the supermarkets, but is used exclusively by food producers to season their products. Therefore, many people do not have a clear understanding of yeast extract. Below you can find answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about yeast extract.

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What is the difference between fresh yeast and yeast extract?

Yeast extract is made from fresh yeast. Enzymes break down the proteins that are present in the yeast cell into smaller components and disintegrate the cell wall so that the content dissolves out of the cell. The remaining cell walls are removed by centrifugation. In simple terms, yeast extract is made up of proteins, amino acids, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals from the yeast cell without the surrounding cell wall.

Why isn’t yeast extract labelled as a flavour enhancer?

Yeast extract is not a flavour enhancer but an ingredient that is made from natural yeast. Yeast extract is characterised by a savoury taste of its own and consists of carbohydrates, proteins, amino acids, vitamins and minerals from the yeast cell.
Flavour enhancers such as monosodium glutamate (MSG), on the other hand, consist of isolated pure substances and are classed as additives. They have to be labelled accordingly in the ingredients list, for example as “flavour enhancer monosodium glutamate” or “flavour enhancer E621”. The E-number means that the respective additive has been tested and approved as safe by the European Union.
Flavour enhancers can only boost the taste of existing ingredients. Yeast extract on the other hand is used like a spice and – with its own bouillon-like taste – contributes a special savoury note to food products. 

How much yeast extract is used in foods?

As yeast extract has an aromatic taste of its own, it is used only in small quantities – just like other seasoning ingredients. On average, the concentration of yeast extract in dishes is approximately 1%.

Products that contain yeast extract are often advertised with claims like “without additives” or “without flavour-enhancer”. Isn’t this misleading for consumers?

Yeast extract is an ingredient, so according to the food law, it is neither categorised as a flavour enhancer nor as an additive. It is categorised as an ingredient because it serves a different purpose in food production: while flavour enhancers only boost the taste of existing ingredients, yeast extract is used primarily because of its unique bouillon-like taste of its own. Yeast extract contains many taste-providing components from the yeast cell and is used like a spice that refines the taste of a food product.
Since EURASYP observes the discussion about the labelling of food products with great interest, the association is making every effort to inform the public transparently about yeast extract as an ingredient, its production and its specific taste-giving properties. 

Does yeast extract contain glutamate?

“Glutamate” is an emotive term for many consumers – unjustly, because it refers to an amino acid that occurs naturally in many fresh products. We find it in tomatoes, peas and mushrooms. As a matter of fact, all protein-rich foodstuffs contain glutamate. Even our own bodies produce glutamate. It also occurs in our saliva and in breast milk. Yeast extract also contains – besides different proteins and other amino acids – glutamate. Yeast extract has an average content of this naturally occurring glutamate of 5%.

I have heard that glutamate can cause health problems. Isn’t it better to avoid glutamate?

Glutamate does not present any health risk. It occurs naturally as an amino acid in all protein-rich foodstuffs – for instance in fish, cheese or pulses. Nor are there risks connected to the consumption of the additive monosodium glutamate, where glutamate occurs as an isolated pure substance. This is the result of many comprehensive safety tests, carried out by the EU and the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA), among others. The human digestive system has adequate capacity to metabolise the amino acid glutamate so that the consumption of foodstuffs that have a naturally high glutamate content or of meals with added monosodium glutamate do not represent any hazard to health. 

How much glutamate does yeast extract contain?

Yeast extract has an average glutamate content of 5%. Since yeast extract is used like a spice only in small quantities, it accounts for just a small part of the final product: the average content of natural glutamate in a food product is usually approximately 1%. However, both protein-rich foodstuffs like meat or legumes as well as matured foods like parmesan cheese or tomatoes naturally contain the amino acid glutamate – sometimes in considerable amounts. This means that for instance a home-made lasagne with minced meat, tomato sauce and parmesan cheese contains a very high amount of glutamate. A comparison: by consuming just one ripe tomato you take in twice as much glutamate as you would with a cup of yeast-extract bouillon.

In which foods is yeast extract used?

Yeast extract is used in many products available in the supermarket. It is used for instance to refine sauces, bouillons, soups, meat dishes, ready meals and savoury snacks. 

Is yeast extract suitable for the vegetarian cuisine?

Yes, although the taste is very similar to that of a meat bouillon, yeast extract does not contain animal ingredients and is therefore suitable for the vegetarian dishes.

How is yeast extract labelled in the ingredient list?

Yeast extract is labelled as “yeast extract” in the ingredients list or sometimes included in “natural flavour”. These names are based on the requirements of the European Food Law.

Why can’t I buy yeast extract in the supermarket like a spice?

If you live in the UK or one of its commonwealth countries you can buy yeast extract in the form of a spread that is mainly used on sandwiches. However, in most other countries yeast extract is hard to find. No yeast extract shaker can be found in the supermarket as yeast extracts in powder form attract moisture too easily to be convenient in use for consumers. Yeast extract with its savoury taste is therefore almost exclusively used by food producers like a spice to round off their products. 

Does yeast extract contain gluten?

Yeast extract is gained from different types of yeast and while bakers’ yeast is gluten free, brewers’ yeast may contain small amounts of gluten. However, the yeast extracts made from brewers’ yeast are considered gluten free given the legal limits for gluten-free products (< 20 ppm, parts per million). Research has shown there is no evidence that this level of gluten causes any problems for a person with coeliac disease (Catassi C, Fabiani E, Iacono G et al. A prospective, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial to establish a safe gluten threshold for patients with celiac disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;85:160-6).
However, people suffering from coeliac disease should keep in mind that yeast extract is just one of many ingredients used in a food product. To be sure that a certain product doesn’t contain any gluten, EURASYP recommends contacting the producer directly if the label doesn’t explicitly indicate that the product is gluten free.

How can yeast extract contribute to lowering the salt content?

Thanks to its rich mix of protein compounds, yeast extract has an aromatic taste of its own. This brings a delicious, savoury note to foods, even those with a low salt content. It has an effect similar to that of a spice and thus helps to lower the salt content without loss of flavour. Nutritional experts advise a similar approach when they recommend using aromatic herbs in order to get along with less salt in the kitchen.