Gluten, MSG and aged cheeses all give me migraine headaches. Is there any substitute for aged Parmesan that might be safe for me?

  • Would some other type of cheese work?
    – amaranth
    Commented May 17, 2015 at 0:55

1 Answer 1


No, there is no such substitute, sorry. The flavor of parmesan is dominated by both the tyrosine and the MSG it contains. If these two are triggering migraine, then there is no alternative which will be even close to the original in taste. Everything one can suggest as a substitute (marmite, certain fungi) is high in MSG.

You can of course use "substitutes" in a recipe just to provide bulk or a texture contrast, without attempting to match the taste at all. What you choose in such a situation will depend on the recipe itself and your personal preference for taste combination. It will be more like giving a completely new twist to the recipe than trying to imitate the original. We cannot give you a blanket recommendation on "what will work" for that case, because there is no such single thing.

  • Good answer, but could you add a bit more about how MSG ends up in Parmesan cheese? My idea was that MSG is usually a food additive. In my case, I easily get headaches from consuming most anything with MSG in it, but I have never had any problem with Parmesan cheese.
    – user3169
    Commented May 17, 2015 at 18:16
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    @user3169 MSG and other glutamates are common in many foods. As far as I know, it is created in parmesan by the aging process, as milk does not have it. Other foods literally grow it, such as grapes, or the algae from which it is extracted for use as an additive. Glutamate is ubiquitous in human, animal and plant tissues.
    – rumtscho
    Commented May 17, 2015 at 18:23
  • Thanks. According to this Forbes article Most Parmesan Cheeses In America Are Fake, Here's Why, here in the US there is a lot of variation in what is sold as Parmesan Cheese. It also says the real Parmigiano-Reggiano is high in umami that is generally associated with MSG. Maybe I am not eating the real thing; I'll have to check the product labels closer.
    – user3169
    Commented May 17, 2015 at 19:12
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    @user3169 no, MSG is in the real thing. MSG is a naturally occurring chemical that is in nearly all fermented products (in addition to being an additive). Even unprocessed walnuts, mushrooms, and oysters have quite a bit of MSG. The fact that most Parmesan cheeses in the US are fake will have little to do with how they affect someone with an MSG allergy. Commented May 18, 2015 at 17:18

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