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What Are “Hydrolyzed Soy Protein” And “Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein,” And Why Are They In Everything?

A close inspection of the nutrition label on most processed foods will usually turn up—among other disturbingly-named ingredients whose function is unclear—something known as “hydrolyzed soy protein” or “hydrolyzed wheat protein”.

What is it, and why is it added to so many processed food products?

What Is Protein, Anyway?

“Protein” is a generic term for an animal or plant tissue made out of individual proteins. These individual “proteins” are just long chains of amino acids linked together, end to end.

There are 20 amino acids in our genetic code, each an individual molecule with its own shape—and the sequence of amino acids in a protein determines its three-dimensional shape. Our cells can build anything from collagen to digestive enzymes out of the correct sequence of amino acids!

A short protein is called a “peptide”, but there’s no set number of amino acids under which the term is used. Calling a protein a “peptide” is like calling a person “short”: it’s a relative judgment.

Why Is There So Much “Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein”?

Now that we know proteins are just strings of amino acids, we can understand what “hydrolyzed vegetable protein” is.

Note that it’s no longer legal to use the term “hydrolyzed vegetable protein” on a nutrition label in the USA: the source of the protein must be listed, e.g. “hydrolyzed soy protein”, “hydrolyzed wheat protein”. (Source: USDA Flavorings FAQ.)

The process of extracting seed oils from soybeans or corn (a disturbing series of chemical reactions involving hexane, taking place in chemical plants that look a lot like oil refineries) leaves behind dehulled, defatted soy or corn meal. Typically this mush is fed to cattle…but since it’s cheap and produced by the ton due to massive, destructive subsidies for industrial monocrop agriculture, there is great financial incentive to figure out how to feed it to humans.

Wheat protein is simpler to produce: since gluten (the collective name for wheat proteins, including both glutelins and gliadins) doesn’t dissolve in water, wheat flour is simply washed with water to dissolve away the starch. (How it’s done, featuring lots of delicious phrases like “homogenized slurry”.)

As one might expect from the name “gluten”, the result is…gluey. (This is what gives bread it’s stretchiness.) As anyone who’s ever used nutritional yeast by mistake, instead of baking yeast, can attest, the result is a heavy, indigestible solid with the approximate density of a brick and the consistency of hardened wood glue. And wheat flour dissolved in water makes an excellent adhesive for putting up posters…or even wallpaper.

This lack of digestibility is among the many reasons why wheat protein, in addition to all its disruptive effects on intestinal function, is the lowest-quality protein commonly available. (Other reasons include a deficiency of the essential amino acids lysine and methionine.) Whole wheat protein scores only 0.25-0.42 on the PDCAAS, with beef protein at 0.92, and eggs and milk at 1.0. Corn protein isn’t any better: it scores between 0.22 and 0.46. (Even soy scores a 1.0 on the PDCAAS—though soy products cause other issues I don’t have space to discuss here.)

Therefore, fake vegetarian meat substitutes like seitan, veggieburgers, and Tofurky—which usually use gluten to help simulate the texture of meat—are using the most biologically disruptive and lowest-quality protein available.

What Is “Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein”?

The protein we’ve extracted can be spray-dried into “textured vegetable protein”, which would require another article to explain…

…or the protein can be “hydrolyzed”. Hydrolysis is basically chemical digestion on an industrial scale: the protein is dropped into a vat of sulfuric acid, boiled for several hours to over a day in order to break down the proteins, after which lye is added to raise the pH back to neutral. (Yum!)

I’ve been asked “If our stomachs can digest protein in a few hours, how come it has to be boiled in sulfuric acid for up to a day?”

Answer: our stomach isn’t just an acid vat. Both our stomach and our intestines contain proteolytic enzymes, like pepsin and trypsin—chemicals specifically tuned to break down bonds between amino acids. However, when hydrolyzing protein on an industrial scale, sulfuric acid and heat is generally cheaper than enzymes.

The longer a protein is hydrolyzed, the more that big, long, gluey proteins (like wheat gluten) will be broken down into shorter proteins—or even into individual amino acids.

Why Is Protein Hydrolyzed, and Why Is Hydrolyzed Protein In So Much Of Our Food?

If you’re thinking this all seems like a lot of work for not much benefit, you’re not alone. Hydrolyzed protein usually shows up near the end of the ingredient list: why would food companies go to so much trouble just to add a tiny bit of protein to their food?

The answer is simple: when we hydrolyze a protein down to free amino acids, one of the amino acids we get is glutamic acid, known as glutamate in its anionic form. And since wheat gluten in particular contains a lot of glutamine, hydrolyzed wheat protein will contain a lot of free glutamate.

For more than you probably wanted to know about glutamate vs. glutamine and their metabolism, try these articles and papers:

Glutamine: The Essential “Non-Essential” Amino Acid
Ivy Greenwell, LE Magazine, September 1999

J. Nutr. April 1, 2000 vol. 130 no. 4 978S-982S
Intestinal Glutamate Metabolism
Peter J. Reeds, Douglas G. Burrin, Barbara Stoll and Farook Jahoor

And free glutamate is the molecule that plugs into the taste receptor we call “umami”…

…the same taste receptor that’s tickled by the abundant free glutamate in soy sauce, Parmesan and Roquefort cheese, Vegemite and Marmite, fish sauce, nori, kombu, and MSG.

Glutamine And Glutamate Are Not Gluten…But “Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein” Can Still Be Gluten

It’s easy to get confused due to the similar names, so I’ll restate the point: glutamine (and glutamate, its carboxylate anion) is not the same as gluten!

Gluten is the collective term for the proteins found in wheat and other gluten grains, like barley, rye, and triticale. Glutamine and glutamate are forms of a single amino acid. They’re found in almost every protein in the world, and they can’t cause a celiac or allergic reaction by themselves.

However, “hydrolyzed wheat protein” can still contain the peptides which affect zonulin signaling and cause problems for celiacs and the allergic…it all depends on the degree of hydrolysis. I wouldn’t risk it myself.

(Note that another name for “hydrolyzed wheat protein” is “glutamine peptides”, often found in sports nutrition products like whey protein. Beware!)

What Is “Umami?”

The easiest way to explain “umami” is “that yummy taste that’s in all the condiments I just listed”, usually described as “savory” or “meaty”. But why would humans have a taste sensor for free glutamate?

The answer becomes clearer when we realize that all the foods in the above list are heavily processed products of agricultural civilization. if we look down the list of free glutamate-containing foods until we find non-processed foods available to Paleolithic humans, we find shellfish (100-200), meat, fish, and milk (20-70).

In other words, we find sources of good, complete protein. So it’s clear that our taste sensors for “umami” evolved to sense protein…

…that we’ve discovered how to trick our protein sensor by creating lots of free glutamate out of things like seaweed and hard cheese…

…and, most recently, hydrolyzed soy, corn and wheat protein.

You’ll note that many other popular neolithic foods contain free glutamate far in excess of their protein content…which, I suspect, is one reason we enjoy their taste. Peas, corn, tomatoes, potatoes, grape juice, and cured ham contain far more free glutamate than meat or shellfish…and green tea contains almost as much glutamate as soy sauce! (Table, again.)

Conclusion

  • “Hydrolyzed vegetable protein” is a flavor enhancer…
  • …because it stimulates our umami taste receptors, just like soy sauce, Parmesan cheese, or MSG.
  • However, it’s much cheaper than real food, because the USA heavily subsidizes the production of corn, soy, and wheat…
  • …and, in the case of soy and corn, it’s made from a byproduct of soy and corn oil manufacturing that would otherwise be fed to cattle.

And that’s why we find “hydrolyzed wheat protein” and “hydrolyzed soy protein” in so many processed “foods”.

Live in freedom, live in beauty.

JS


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77 comments

Permalink: What Are “Hydrolyzed Soy Protein” And “Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein,” And Why Are They In Everything?
  • Pete Ray

    Most interesting. Is soy lecithin a hydrolyzed soy protein? With my limited knowledge, I would suppose not. All the same, I increasingly find it listed as an ingredient in a range of things you find in a supermarket, including butter!

  • Nice work!  It brought a smile to my face when reflecting on the verdent imagery so often associated with veg*anism.

    My disgust at what passes as (processed) food for veg*ans far surpasses any digust I have experienced in the killing and butchering of animals (although I've only hunted fish and birds).

    There is a veg*an argument that if we could but see what is involved in meat-eating we'd all go veg*an overnight. 

    If veg*ans could see the chemistry involved in their diet, I'm sure they would recoil in horror. Everything from the pesticides, fungicides, herbicides and insecticides of monocropping, through to the hexane based extraction of seed oils, and on to the boiling of proteins in vats of sulfuric acid for hours at a time!

    I mistrust long food chains – be they physical or transactional.  It is one thing having farmers and butchers, and then traders and other middlemen involved in your food chain – but putting chemists and food scientists in to the mix as well is rather disconcerting. 

    Better to reduce the time from 'hoof to tooth' as there is usually greater transparency and less chance of adulteration and deterioration in food quality.

  • Joel Zaslofsky

    Like a lot of what you publish this is disturbing…and enlightening. I give you credit not for the disturbing part (that’s due to the ag and food science industries) but definitely for the enlightening part.

    Thanks for this great piece. Yet another ingredient to be on high alert for when people go shopping for “food”.

  • Andrea Reina

    Pete,

    Soy lecithin is lecithin derived from soy. Lecithin is an emulsifier and therefore you’ll find it in many products that involve an oil-and-water mixture: butter, chocolate, probably salad dressings, etc. Lecithin is one of the things that is responsible for egg yolks allowing you to make mayonnaise, and serves a beneficial role in the diet (choline, a substance that is of great value to liver health, is a component of lecithin).

    The question is whether there’s anything else piggy-backing with the soy lecithin (eg, soy proteins), and unfortunately I don’t know that. I’ve been operating on the assumption that it’s generally safe.

  • Marilyn

    @ Ray Pete: I’m looking forward to hearing the answer to that, too. I checked my whey protein the other day, and the only additive is soy lecithin.

  • Beowulf

    Wow, I had known for a while that processed food often had the right mix of sweet, salty, and fatty to make out taste buds sing, but I didn’t know that all that hydrolyzed protein was having a similar effect. Yeesh, combine that with the incomplete and unsatisfying nature of “snack” food (as per your other article), and it’s a wonder that any of us can put the box of crackers down.

  • Peggy The Primal Par

    Nice work! Your descriptions are so clean.

    I’m glad you wrote this article actually because I’ve just so happened to have some questions about hydrolized products lately.

    First, how much is too much? Clearly some amount of free amino acids are perfectly natural. I’m guessing glutamate is even formed to some degree in slow cooked soups by the process of hydrolytic cleavage (the separating of amino acids by trapped moisture) but I’m not entirely sure if the amino acids are broken down far enough. I’m not sure how much glutamate would actually be released or how long it might take.

    Second, I wonder how much free amino acids it takes to cause the nerve damage (migrains, diziness, memory loss) that can be caused by eating these products.

    Third, prepared gelatin is essentially hydrolyzed collagen. Does this have the same unami-stimulating, nerve damaging effect?

  • tess

    another great article, J — and very timely! my husband, MIL and i are visiting the son’s farm (VERY small, with pastured poultry, goats and pigs). MIL owns wheat farms in KS, and WILL NOT believe there’s anything wrong with the stuff….

  • Peggy The Primal Par

    Oops, typo. Should have said, “if the proteins are broken down far enough.” :P

  • Aaron Blaisdell

    JS, great job as usual!

    @Peggy, I believe what JS was conveying was not that the amino acid glutamate was dangerous on its own (aside from tricking our taste buds into consuming something lacking in nutrition and possibly toxic), but that there might still be peptides or longer chain proteins not completely broken down in the processes that are still present in the “food”. It is those gluten proteins that may still be present that are dangerous to all of us potentially, celiacs and gluten-sensitive individuals particularly.

    Our umami taste receptor presumably evolved for the specific function to lead us to consume foods that naturally contain glutamate. Glutamate is an amino acid that acts as a signal for all the other nutrients in the food (meat, shellfish, seaweed, etc.). Bone broths are rich in collagen, and thus rich in glutamate. Thus, they’re the real deal (without gluten), and should be consumed daily for optimal health. In fact, the next time you make bone stock, add a few strips of kombu (kelp) into the pot to extract yet more umami, and of course more minerals as well.

  • Marc

    Hi Aaron,
    Trust all is well with you.

    “add a few strips of kombu (kelp) into the pot to extract yet more umami, and of course more minerals as well.”

    I’ve never done this…do you still use vinegar when you use the Kombu?

    Thank you.

    Marc

  • Aaron Blaisdell

    @Marc,

    Yes, about 1/4 cup of raw apple cider vinegar. I’ve read that it helps extract the minerals from the bones. I also throw scraps of wilted vegetables and carrot tops and the like in there, too.

  • Nick

    regarding bone broth, I can attest that if you cook it long enough say, 24+ hrs, there is a lot of free glutamate. Just like msg it upsets my stomach. This is a problem for me, since I want broths for minerals and gut health. I would love to know if anyone has a suggestion for reducing that kind of sensitivity.

  • Marty

    Superb and comprehensive post! There’s more to this industrial/agricultural additive than the name implies. I’m left with the savory desire to eat the real deal instead – shellfish, meat, fish.

  • [...] What Are “Hydrolyzed Soy Protein” And “Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein,” And Why Are They In Everyt… What are "hydrolyzed vegetable proteins," and why do so many processed and prepared foods contain them? Learn more here! [...]

  • Daniel Taylor

    Gluey is def the correct description there. I once made the mistake of putting wheat noodles down my disposal (long time ago, very long) and then I spent the next several hrs taking apart the plumbing and cleaning out the pipes. What a sticky nasty mess!

    Cheers

  • Pete Ray:

    Lecithin is a slurry of fatty residues like phospholipids, glycolipids, choline, phosphoric acid, glycerol, etc.  Commercial soy lecithin is basically “the fatty gunk left over when you refine it out of soybean oil”…

    …which isn’t all bad, because a significant amount of the “gunk” is phosphadityl choline!  Sadly, soy lecithin is probably the major source of choline in the American diet.

    However, while quantities will be minute, it cannot be 100% guaranteed that there won’t be a few stray protein molecules in it…so people with strong allergies or sensitivities to soy could still have an issue.

    Asclepius:

    Absolutely!  When people say they’re trying to avoid highly processed foods, I tell them “Bread is a highly processed food.”  And fake meat is far worse…as you say, the industrial processing required to create veg*an “foods” out of birdseed is complex, intense, and environmentally destructive.  

    Even the worst industrial meat products, like hot dogs, are simple in comparison: they’re just shredded meat, flavored and pressed into shape.  (No acid vats required.)  And even the much-maligned “pink slime” isn’t dipped in any vats of sulfuric acid: it’s just sprayed with puffs of ammonia gas as a disinfectant.

    Joel:

    Hydrolyzed soy and wheat protein aren’t the worst of the industrial food additives by far…but they’re a solid reminder of the consequences of heavy grain subsidies, which is a huge financial incentive to replace real food with industrial products derived from birdseed (aka “heart-healthy whole grains”).

    Andrea, Marilyn:

    Quite correct.  As I said above, any proteins remaining in soy lecithin should be in vanishingly small amounts.  I don’t worry about it myself.  However, there is a movement to other sources of lecithin, like sunflower seeds, in order to label products “soy-free” for the growing number of people with diagnosed allergies.

    Beowulf:

    Exactly.  Hydrolyzed protein is basically a way to create the same taste as MSG (“umami”) without the ingredient label scaring people.

    Peggy:

    I don’t know enough about glutamate/glutamine chemistry to make any judgments about “how much free glutamate is too much”.  I do know that our blood levels are highly regulated, our intestines suck up something like 90% of dietary glutamate and glutamine, and they also convert glutamate into glutamine (via glutamine synthetase), so it’s likely to be a lot.

    Gelatin has a very low amount of free glutamate.  It's low in glutamine by comparison to other meat proteins, let alone seed proteins.  Furthemore, the proteins aren't fully hydrolyzed, because otherwise they wouldn't gel.  This article on gelatin chemistry goes into the details.

    More soon!

    JS

  • tess:

    Wheat protein really is of remarkably low quality.  There's a reason that wheat and beef always went together in the Neolithic European cultural package: wheat absolutely will not support human life on its own, and requires supplemental animal protein.

    Aaron:

    Thank you!  I'm glad my explanations meet your approval for scientific rigor.

    And thanks for the clarification: that's indeed what I was trying to get across.  Anything with “hydrolyzed wheat protein” is not guaranteed to be “gluten-free”…and unprocessed foods that naturally contain free glutamate are both nutritious and delicious. 

    I take it, from your love of bone broth and umami, that you're not on the “OMG EXCITOTOXINS!!1!!1!” bus :)

    Nick:

    I honestly have no idea: perhaps someone else can contribute?

    Marty:

    Absolutely.  It's not a ubiquitous ingredient for no reason: ingredient costs for industrial foods are calculated to the fractional cent.

    Daniel:

    If the pasta dried in that state, you probably would have had to replace some pipes!

     

    Thanks, everyone, for contributing.  There's a rule of thumb to be applied: if there's an ingredient on the label you don't understand, it's either a preservative, a stabilizer, a flavor enhancer, or it's cheaper than food.  In the case of hydrolyzed protein, it's both a flavor enhancer and cheaper than food.

    JS

  • Funny, just yesterday at work, a colleague who is paleo curious and tries to do the right thing was reading the ingredient list on the back of something or other that he'd got for lunch. “Hydrolysed something or other”, which he said, “that doesn't sound good … sounds like MSG in disguise”, or words to that effect. How close he was!

    I know many paleos have a distrust of food that comes in packaging, but I wonder whether we really should be a more united on this one. Food that comes in packages is processed. We don't eat processed food.

    There is a real freedom in eating real food. J said it really well the other day on another thread where I talked about my ingredient principle – do the ingredients reflect the description of the food? J said that real food IS ingredients, and how true that is.

    Back to the article – very useful, J. Covert processing in the ingredients really is something to watch out for. I'm pretty sure I mentioned it before, but “meat glue” is something to be increasingly aware of. Transglutaminase, if anyone wants to look it up – your next marbled steak might just be frankenfood!

  • pam

    JS,

    kudo. you have a way to explain complex matters that is easy to understand for laymen.

    i also wonder about soy lecithin. it is everywhere, even in high end chocolate. i supposed lecithin from eggs are too expensive?

    i switched just dry roasted my own cacao (beans). it tastes bitter but i have acquired a taste for it.

    i also use kelp in broth for taste & minerals. also since Hubby does not like sea vegetables. this is the way to sneak it in. XD.

    is MSG naturally occuring in some food, like kelp?

    i find the “umami” taste in my home made broth has more body, more savory. the umami from added MSG is a bit empty & quite salty.

    regards,

  • pam

    hydrolized vegetable protein sounds a lot like the equivalent of MTBE in oil refinery to me.

  • Paul:

    Your co-worker is essentially correct: it's MSG without the sodium.

    From what I understand, the “meat glue” issue is far more prevalent in restaurants and pre-packaged meat.  It's difficult to make something that looks exactly like a raw ribeye, or even a raw chuck roast…but it's very easy to make a homogenous chunk of meat that, after being grilled, can be sold as a “steak”.

    That's why I don't buy any meat sold in opaque tubes, or any of the pre-packaged “bacon-wrapped filet mignon in a plastic mold” type of stuff I see in the freezer case.  I figure it's guaranteed to be made out of glued-together tenderloin tips — at best.

    pam:

    Exactly.  Soy is heavily subsidized and cheap, therefore soy lecithin is cheap.

    MSG is just free glutamate attached to a sodium ion (Na+).  In water, it dissociates into Na+ and glutamate, which is why MSG tastes salty (the Na+ ion).  In other sources, like kelp, the glutamate is not attached to a sodium atom, so it doesn't taste salty…but it still has umami, because that comes from the glutamate.

    Clear?

    JS

  • Leslie

    Great post! It's been over a year eating unprocessed foods, a year that no longer required reading labels with mystery ingredients. People seem to focus on calories and fat content and ignore the ingredient list. Ludicrous descriptors on the front of box like 'Heart healthy canola' or 'low fat soy protein' are just wrong.

    @Nick, this article discusses glutamate and in the comments Dr. Eades responds to a question like your's … may be an issue with calcium: Savory Monosodium Glutamate

  • Leslie:

    That's a great article by Dr. Eades, and the discussion in the comments is good too.  He doesn't update much any more, but there's a trove of good information in his older stuff.

    Note that I had to fix the URL myself…something's wrong with the comment/forum software that causes it to screw up links when it tries to shorten the text with ellipses.  I'll try to find the problem as soon as I'm less busy!

    JS

  • Zachary K.

    Amazingly informative article! Good job, Stanton.

    I was shopping for a natural body wash and lotion, Canus Goat’s Milk Body Wash and lotion to be precise. I noticed they offer a version of their product that adds in hydrolyzed wheat protein for added moisturizing.

    My question is, do you know if using hydrolyzed wheat protein in cosmetics such as lotion and body wash is safe? Or is it just as bad for you as eating it?

    Thanks.

  • [...] Glutamine, free glutamate, hydrolized why protein. Same as MSG? [...]

  • Wenchypoo

    Way back in my pre-Paleo days, I used to use dehydrated TVP (soaked) as a meat stretcher. I remember the back of the bag saying it was hydrolyzed vegetable protein.

    You’ll also see that term listed on the backs of frozen burritos, and frozen pizzas in any store, because they’re full of SOY and not actual meat. The government says as long as they don’t advertise meat on the front, no amount of meat has to be in the middle.

  • jordan

    Your timing could not be more perfect. Here’s to meat glue.

  • Zachary: 

    Thanks for the support!

    Rubbing hydrolyzed wheat protein on your body is probably a lot like rubbing bread on your body: I doubt it'll harm you unless you're allergic, but I don't see any reason to do so.  There are plenty of great products out there that don't contain it!

    (Also, I confess I'm not clear how a protein can “moisturize”…perhaps I don't spend enough time with cosmetics!)

    Wenchypoo:

    TVP is a different beast entirely — but it's possible that they were adding HVP to the TVP in order to give it some umami.

    And it's definitely the case that convenience food is chock-full of non-food like HVP and TVP.  If people are in enough of a hurry to voluntarily eat a microwave burrito, they're unlikely to care what's in it…

    …which (if I recall correctly) is mostly soybean oil by calories, with wheat flour coming next.  

    jordan:

    Great article!  I'm not at all surprised that catered “filet mignon” is usually glued-together tenderloin tips.  There's only a few pounds of filet in a side of beef — and I've always wondered how so many places can serve “filet mignon” when there's so little of it to go around.  

    JS

  • [...] What Are “Hydrolyzed Soy Protein” And “Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein,” And Why Are They In Everyt… [...]

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  • [...] What Are “Hydrolyzed Soy Protein” And “Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein,” And Why Are They In Everyt… – A post from Gnolls.org, which I have come to really love. J. Stanton makes thorough, well-researched, well-reasoned cases in all of his posts. This is a great piece explaining these nasty food-like products that you’ll find in so many packaged, processed foods. [...]

  • madaline beeman

    Wow…I never stop learning and being amazed at what our government aloes the food industry (and drug industry to sell us medicine to fix the results) to do!
    This is a fantastick site!!!

  • Off the direct topic, but related, I was looking for a good fish stock to use with a Bouillabasse last Sunday. I found one which proudly declared that it was “free of artificial flavour enhancers*” … where the * on the back of the packet stated: “Does not contain MSG”. The ingredients, however, listed, “Yeast Extract”, which is technically a live culture although far from natural once produced. Not liars, but close.

  • madaline:

    I'm glad you find it helpful!  Do stick around.

    Paul:

    “Yeast extract” usually has a lot of free glutamate in it.  It's one reason Vegemite and Marmite are so popular.

    JS

  • David I

    You mention seitan in passing. Seitan, of course, isn’t hydrolyzed; it’s just wheat with all the water-soluble materials washed away in cold water.

    I rather like seitan–although its bioavailability is admittedly low.

    What I find fascinating is that I have come across two cases of people who claimed to be gluten-intolerant but could eat seitan with no ill effects. Since seitan is pretty much nothing but gluten, that’s more than a little odd. (In both cases, they were unaware that seitan was a wheat product! Hilarious.)

    Now, there’s a couple of possibilities here. Either their gluten intolerance is all in their heads, or maybe the problem isn’t really gluten. Could it be that some other component of wheat–one closely associated with gluten, but water soluble–is the real culprit in “gluten intolerance?”

  • … or the devil confuses them.

  • David I:

    I think it's most likely that the people you encountered aren't actually gluten-intolerant. 

    Note that, strictly speaking, the gliadins (not the glutelins) are the peptides with the effects on zonulin signaling, and possibly opiate receptors.  However, wheat protein is collectively referred to as “gluten” even though it's composed of both glutenins and gliadins.  It's a bit confusing!

    Neither glutelins not gliadins are strictly water-soluble…gliadins are alcohol-soluble, and glutelins are soluble in weak acids or alkalis.  And seitan contains both.

    I concede that I don't know enough about the chemistry to say what other minor proteins might be water-soluble (and therefore, perhaps, washed away during the making and processing of seitan).  However, again, I think “not really gluten-intolerant” is the most likely explanation. 

    Note that this doesn't mean it's good for them (or for anyone) to eat seitan!

    JS

  • mark

    I have always been skeptical when I read the list of ingredients from “healthier” choices when I discover hydrolyzed vegetable protein on the list. You have gone much further in your research explaining that it’s almost pure economics why companies add this to our food because it’s cheap and abundant!

  • mark:

    Absolutely!  Another great example is PGPR in chocolate…it's cheaper than cocoa butter.

    JS

  • E Craig

    PGPR.. sigh.  Both glad and sad to find out about this.  I told my husband “They're fucking with the chocolate now”.  Happy that my chocolate intake generally falls to a few cacao nibs occasionally.

  • [...] “What are ‘hydrolyzed soy protein’ and ‘hydrolyzed wheat protein’ and why are…” from gnolls.org This entry was posted in Workout of the Day by Todd. Bookmark the permalink. [...]

  • [...] get it in that tiny little packet? This is what’s in the seasoning “HAM” packet: Hydrolyzed Soy Protein (omg, click orange link to read what it is!), maltodextrin, salt, artificial flavorings (including [...]

  • Marcus Marcinelli

    Very interesting article. I have recently had my gall bladder removed and noticed an instinctive lack of desire for highly processed foods. Although I don’t consider myself a vegan, I find myself gravitating toward whole foods rather than processed.
    I think your article, although obviously pointing out the pitfalls of a highly processed vegatarian proten source, is aimed at the vegan diet, should also take into account a non vegan diet. How many of us would want to eat bologna or hot dogs on a regular basis and call that a good protein source? Just like whole foods, I can see the benefits to a meat diet as long as it is fresh and unprocessed. I’ll take a good pot roast over a hot dog any day.

  • Jen W

    Or hell, I just get the stone ground chocolate most of the time now anyways.  I find I prefer it over the other kinds now.

  • E Craig:

    Good chocolate (Lindt/Ghirardelli/etc.) doesn't have PGPR in it…it's the cheap stuff in candy bars that's almost universally stretched with PGPR.

    Marcus:

    If you read my other articles (check the index), it'll become clear that I'm very much pro-meat as well as pro-whole-foods in general — so I absolutely agree with you that a good roast is where we want to be getting our protein.

    However, there is plenty of HVP/HSP/HWP in meat-based processed foods…again, because it's a way to sneak in something equivalent to MSG without actually saying “MSG” on the label.

    Jen W:

    AFAIK, PGPR is an ingredient that must be disclosed individually on the label, and can't be hidden under “natural flavoring”, “artificial flavoring”, or some other catch-all.  So you should be safe if you read the label.

    JS

  • [...] Boca Foods Co. (owned by Kraft Foods) is another megavega brand that you shouldn’t bother with. Boca’s products are typically mealy and bland. And many of them contain such MSG stand-ins as disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate, and hydrolyzed corn protein. [...]

  • Scott

    Great Article, thanks for the concise information. Although I have two questions for you.

    1. I had a severe reaction to Great Lakes Gelatin. Are you saying that it’s not the glutamate causing the reaction but the hydrolyzed protein itself or in conjunction with the free glutamate? And obviously with any MSG product.

    2. Is it possible to make homemade stock with beef morrow bones cooked for 1-5 days at a simmer(without using sulfuric acid of course) and create hydrolyzed protein that may cause a reaction?

    Stock is supposed to be the most healing for this condition and I am having a reaction to something that I cant put my finger on. Could it be the stock and fat?

  • Scott:

    It's not possible to be allergic to single amino acids, because we would die instantly, our bodies being composed of all 22 essential and non-essential amino acids.  We can only be allergic to proteins — chains of amino acids.  (For a primer on proteins, read this article.)

    Perhaps you're allergic to some of the proteins in gelatin and stock…but then you ought to have problems with meat, too, since there's plenty of connective tissue in meat.  This doesn't seem likely.

    It is theoretically possible to have a non-allergic reaction to large amounts of free glutamate, but I'm skeptical that it's your problem with gelatin or bone broth.  Here's the Great Lakes analysis page on the free glutamic acid content of gelatin: there's more in fruit juice, let alone foods known to be high in free glutamic acid like Parmesan cheese or soy sauce.

    That being said, if you do react to such foods, then yes, bone broths will have a lot of free glutamic acid in them…as will any protein cooked for a long time.  The longer you cook a protein, the more the proteins will untangle and break apart, and you'll get more free amino acids of all kinds — not just glutamic acid.

    JS

  • Jacquiline Melancon

    Hey, great site but there is a problem whereby sometimes I get redirected to the root page when I look at different topics within your web page.

  • Jacquiline:

    That's likely an intermittent problem with the caching software.  I've wiped and rebuilt the cache, which usually fixes any problems.

    JS

  • Joel R. Hanson

    Simple solution. Buy certified organic. Nothing can be hydrogenated, hydrolyzed, chemically processed/altered, blasted with pesticides and synthetic fertilizers or GMO. Just pure goodness.

  • Joel:

    “Organic” is entirely a self-reported, self-policed label, and thus doesn't mean much…

    …especially for products from China and overseas.

    JS

  • Bree

    In a google search for hydrolyzed wheat protein, this article popped up first, then a few down the page I found theherbarie.com.

    This is one of their product descriptions:
    Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein is a naturally derived, hydrolyzed wheat protein that contains wheat oligosaccharides (carbohydrates) and constitutes a unique hydrating complex offering a combination of moisture-balancing and film-forming properties that work synergistically to give hair better body control, and skin, a smoother softer feel. Wonderfully moisturizing in lotions/creams, anti-aging products. Exceptional in shampoos, conditioners, body wash.
    INCI Name: Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein (and) Hyrolyzed Wheat Starch.

    It seems they are playing on the words hydrolyzed and hydrating. I’m not sure what part of boiling something in sulfuric acid overnight and applying to the skin is hydrating. Unless I am interpreting your article wrong?

  • Bree:

    First, hydrolyzed wheat protein doesn't contain any carbohydrates by definition, so their copywriter is confused. 

    Also, I have no idea what hydrolyzed wheat protein is doing in shampoo or soap anyway.  Nor do I understand how a protein can be “moisturizing”.

    Frankly, most bath stuff and cosmetics are witchery and woo anyway.  As for myself, I use coconut-based bath soap and coconut oil as lotion.

    JS

  • J. Stanton said:

    (in response to Bree) … most bath stuff and cosmetics are witchery and woo anyway.  As for myself, I use coconut-based bath soap and coconut oil as lotion.

    JS

    I'll pick you up on this later …

    I've been turning the clock back on toiletries and gone back to old-fashioned razors with simple olive oil and citrus pre-shave, aftershave of mint, lavender and juniper steeped in Witch Hazel. I still use an Eau de Toilette, but that's simply because I like to … just like I enjoy Guinness.

    Interesting … one for another thread.

  • david

    My protein, which I will never buy again has – Sucralose, Soy Lecithin Contains milk, soy and wheat

  • david:

    I'm not too disturbed about soy lecithin…but “contains wheat” is not a good sign!

    JS

  • What exactly is soy lecithin? I know it's a thickener … well, it can form and hold bubbles, which I guess translates as a sort of thickener/bulker when it comes to protein shakes, but it is in absolutely everything.

    I know lecithin can be garnered from egg, which to my mind is preferable, even if is is “laboratory extracted”, but soy … hmmm … I can't quite get myself to accept it.

    What say you gnolls? Is it something simply not to worry about, like the little whatever there is in Worcestershire Sauce that I really don't mind at all, or is it something we should seek to avoid?

  • Paul:

    Lecithin is an emulsifier: it helps a mix of ingredients remain homogenous.  (More info.)  It was originally isolated from egg yolks.  That's why you can make mayonnaise, Caesar dressing, etc. with egg yolks: the lecithin lets the oil and water stay mixed, instead of separating.

    Soy lecithin is cheap these days because we subsidize soybeans so heavily, so it's generally used instead of egg yolks.

    Lecithin itself contains a lot of phosphadityl choline, which is a good thing: you can even buy lecithin as a dietary supplement, though anyone eating like a predator will get plenty of PC from whole eggs.

    As far as soy lecithin, I don't worry much about it: it's used in very low quantities, and there's not much in it besides choline and phospholipids, which you want.  (Sadly, it's probably the only source of choline in the diet of the average American/Briton.)  Yes, there are probably tiny traces of soy protein in there…but if you're willing to eat industrially-produced Worcestershire sauce, chocolate, etc., tiny traces of soy are well down the list of my concerns.  Chris Kresser recently wrote an article about it, if you're curious to learn more.

    JS

  • Thank you, J – I will seek out Chris's article on the matter.

    I agree, there is little to fear from trace amounts. Eating as we do, it's not a concern. I take a relaxed view on condiments, but even there, will seek out the least of the evils out there. I've seen Soy Lecithin listed on high percentage chocolate and put the bar back. Maybe I'll indulge a little now.

    I had to look up sources of choline: eggs, scallops, shrimp, sardines, cauliflower … got it covered. Naturally, grass-fed beef is right up there as a great source, too.

    Cheers!

  • [...] hydrolyzed soy protein and hydrolyzed corn protein (you can read about these disgusting ingredients here). Reading the ingredients on the foods you eat helps you stay informed so you are better able to [...]

  • D Umphress

    This reminds me of an incident I had years ago with a fish sauce, which, like many, had HVP in it. It gave me a severe headache, tapering off after about 3 days; I am not prone to these, and have not had one since, so it may not have been the HVP itself, given how many other things I eat it in. However, these fish sauces and soy sauces with HVP are what I call “fake” sauces – instead of being made using the time consuming fermentation methods, they take short cuts to do it in about 1/10 the time, and add HVP, and probably other chemicals attached to it. So I try to avoid it whenever possible, though it really is next to impossible.

  • D Umphress:

    It's easy to buy the real stuff when cooking at home, and it's not even expensive!  (Especially given how strong fish sauce is…you can only use a few drops of the real stuff at a time unless you want your dish to taste like rotten anchovies.)  It's when eating out that you don't know what's been used…I'm thinking of the Chinese soy sauce made from hydrolyzed human hair.

    JS

  • [...] calories has never been this easy or tasted so goodEnhanced with creatine, glutamine, and glutamine peptides  Calories per serving: 1,250Grams of protein: 50Grams of carbs: 250+Vitamins and minerals: [...]

  • Sammy

    Hi,

    I really appreciated your article. My young daughter cannot tolerate Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, or Soy Lecithin. bHT is a no-no as well.

    You are right that Soy Lecithin is a cheap emulsifier. It also has a longer shelf life than egg lecithin. And given the extent of a reaction my kiddo has to it and the fact that we’ve done the RAST testing for allergies, I would suggest that as a protein, it is so severely modified via these chemical processes that it no longer even register as “soy-protein.”

    I pretty much must cook/bake/make everything we eat. Breads, crackers, sauces, everything. I thank my lucky stars that we don’t have any of the most common food allergies on top of this because, it would be a nightmare.

    I feel a little like my kid is the canary in the coalmine in this scenario. There is a fundamental problem with our food and our culture and politics about food. We all should eat better. My family has to and it is significantly difficult to do so.

  • Sammy:

    You have my sympathy: it's very difficult to avoid industrial ingredients in food.

    Real food, made with real ingredients, tends to be perishable.  It's much cheaper to make, distribute, and stock things that don't require refrigeration and don't go bad…you can just leave them on the shelf until they sell.  Industrial ingredients also usually make perishable food less perishable, which is why they're so ubiquitous.

    On the good side, your family is probably eating a much healthier diet as a result of all this.  But I understand that it would be so much more convenient to have the option of occasionally cheating!

    JS

  • Sammy

    Thanks. I didn’t mean to get on a soap box or whine, “Poor-me!” But, it has been a powerful education about food. And I will tell you that as a family, we all eat the same foods in solidarity. We keep the house allergy free.

    The result is that we all eat as much as we want and we are all healthy. My hubby and I are active people but we don’t watch our weight because we simply don’t need to. I think that the Paleo diet is pretty accurate. I just happen to like to use butter more than they suggest.

    One of the other things I’ve learned is that Soy Lecithin is 50% of what is in food release sprays and shortening. So many times, for us, we can’t even purchase something that doesn’t contain one of our problem-foods because it has been sprayed with the problem food.

    All in all, I am happy with how we eat. But it has opened my eyes to the larger reality that the culture we live in is eating horrible stuff all the time and it is amazing to me how hard it is to avoid. If we didn’t have a medical reason, the cost alone would make us eat more poorly.

  • pzo

    Glutamines, etc. as a cause of autism:

    Video: Dr. Katherine Reid at TedX

    Dr. Katherine Reid completely cures her daughter's autism by diet. You'll want to jerk a tear or two at the very end.

  • Sammy:

    It's easy to forget that the purpose of life is to get enough to eat so that we can continue to live — and only then, perhaps, reproduce.  All the other stuff is recreational inessentials — or nerga, as the gnolls say.

     

    pzo:

    Great video!  It's heartening to see that sort of success, especially at a young age when her daughter was able to recover and catch up on her developmental schedule.

    I suspect that the problem isn't just free glutamate.  Gluten (actually the gliadin fraction) causes gut permeability, and the known biological effects of restricting gluten aren't limited to decreasing glutamate intake.  Also, like food coloring and many other things, added free glutamate is generally a marker for processed, nutrient-poor junk food containing all sorts of suspicious ingredients…and they're replacing these processed foods with nutrient-rich real foods.  I think it's very likely that a diet of gluten-free, casein-free junk food wouldn't have the same beneficial effects — nor would a diet of low-glutamate junk food, if it existed. 

    I suspect the root cause is that there is substantial genetic variation in the ability to absorb, process, and use nutrients, and the ability to process and eliminate antinutrients.  Result: Dr. Reid's other daughters did OK on the SAD, but Brooke came up short on a few and in excess on some others, and requires a much more nutrient-rich, antinutrient-poor diet in order to function properly.  And I suspect that, as Brooke stays gluten-free and her gut heals, she'll be more able to tolerate foods that would otherwise set her back.

    Anyway, thanks for the link.  Definitely food for thought.

    JS

  • [...] What Are “Hydrolyzed Soy Protein” [...]

  • Bob

    I’m a little confused. I thought I was avoiding soy by using a Thai fish sauce made of fermented anchovy, water, salt. Now I see that this has high levels of glutamic acid. It is really a fairly natural product that has been used for centuries. Is this, then, as damaging as MSG or Aspartaime, to my brain? Is there no differentiation between naturally occurring glutamic acid and the industrially created product?

  • Bob:

    No, glutamate is glutamate.  It's a very simple molecule.

    That's why I'm not on the “MSG IS EVIL” bus that became so popular a few decades ago…there are lots of natural flavorings high in free glutamate, and no one who claims to be “MSG-sensitive” has been able to actually tell the difference in blind taste tests.

    That being said, if something contains MSG (or its avatars “hydrolyzed soy protein” or “hydrolyzed wheat protein”), it's probably junk food and not good to eat anyway.  And I'm sure it's possible to put so much MSG on something that it becomes harmful…so sticking to natural sources keeps you from consuming pathological amounts.  Fish sauce is extremely strong, and there's only so much soy sauce you can put on food…

    Personally, I think people spend way too much time worrying about trace additives, and not enough time remembering that diet soda and microwave burritos aren't food to begin with.

    JS

  • [...] Eeek. That’s a whole hell of a lot of strange for sunflower seeds. Stay away from the old hydrolyzed nonsense in your food. From gnolls.com: [...]

  • […] Hydrolyzed wheat protein sounds wholesome, but actually has potential to cause allergic reactions in children. Gluten sensitivities have increased along with conditions like celiac disease. This mandates caution around unnecessary topical products that contain wheat. Usually safe for older teens and adults, using them on newborns or babies can be risky. They aren’t being eaten, certainly, but they are absorbed through the skin. […]

  • […] Hydrolysed Wheat Protein – “hydrolysed” involves adding lye to it, that is why some people have allergy to it, it coats hair making it shiny but as you might guess coating prevents hair from breathing and absorbing nutrients, which might not be a good thing for the health of your hair in the long-term (read more here) […]

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