Food constituents affect taste perception and smell of breath

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Food constituents affect taste perception and smell of breath


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Researchers from the Technical University of Munich have found that a component of ginger ensures a fresh breath and citric acid influences the sense of taste. (Photograph: graletta/Shutterstock)
Dental Tribune International

By Dental Tribune International

Wed. 8. August 2018


MUNICH, Germany: Many food components contribute directly to the characteristic taste of food and beverages by means of their own particular taste, scent or spiciness. However, they also indirectly influence the sense of taste via other, still largely unknown biochemical mechanisms. To understand this better, a research team from the Technical University of Munich investigated the effects of food components on the molecules dissolved in saliva. They found that ginger influences the smell of breath and citric acid affects the sense of taste. The results of the study could be applied to the development of new oral hygiene products.

Through analysis of saliva and breath samples collected from volunteers, the study showed that the pungent compound of ginger, 6-gingerol, stimulates an enzyme contained in saliva that breaks down malodorous sulphur-containing compounds. It thereby reduces the long-lasting aftertaste of many foods, such as coffee. “As a result, our breath also smells better,” explained lead researcher Prof. Thomas Hofmann, Chair of Food Chemistry and Molecular Sensory Science at the university. According to him, the discovery of this mechanism could contribute to the future development of new oral hygiene products.

Citric acid influences our perception of taste through a completely different mechanism. As known from personal experience, sour foods such as lemon juice stimulate salivation. The amount of minerals dissolved in saliva also increases in proportion to the amount of saliva. According to Hofmann, the sodium ion level in saliva rises rapidly by approximately a factor of 11 after stimulation with citric acid. This effect makes people less sensitive to table salt. “Table salt is nothing other than sodium chloride, and sodium ions play a key role in the taste of salt. If saliva already contains higher concentrations of sodium ions, samples tasted must have a significantly higher salt content in order to taste comparatively salty,” added Hofmann.

The professor believes that a great deal of research still needs to be done in order to understand the complex interaction between the molecules in food that create taste, the biochemical processes that take place in saliva and the sense of taste. Using a systems biology approach, Hofmann aims to develop a new scientific basis for the production of food with component and functional profiles that satisfy the health and sensory needs of consumers.

The study, titled “Chemosensate-induced modulation of the salivary proteome and metabolome alters the sensory perception of salt taste and odor-active thiols”, was published on 25 July 2018 in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

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