What Happens When Food First Touches Your Tongue

Laura Arenschield wrote . . . . . . . . .

A new study might explain why humans register some tastes more quickly than others, potentially due to each flavor’s molecular size.

The research, published last month in the journal PLOS Computational Biology, also provided explanation as to why humans register taste more quickly when food or drink moves over their tongues quickly, as compared to when they are held in their mouth steadily.

The findings indicate that both the speed with which food and drink move in our mouth and the size of the molecules in the food that we consume affect our ability to taste.

“Our tongue has papillae on it that act like a sea of kelp in an ocean,” said Kai Zhao, lead author of the paper and an associate professor of otolaryngology at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. “Those papillae – the small bumps that contain taste buds on the human tongue – move and sway as food or drink flow past them.”

The human tongue has four kinds of papillae; three of those contain taste buds. (The fourth kind is the most numerous on the tongue, and functions primarily as a way to increase friction.)

For this study, the researchers modeled the way flavors move around the papillae in the tongue, using a range of salty and sweet stimuli. The researchers also built a computer model that simulated previous studies around taste perception.

The model considered the human tongue as a porous surface, with the spaces between the papillae acting like the holes of a sponge. Then the researchers simulated what would happen if they passed a range of salty and sweet flavors over that surface, first quickly, in one intense rush, then slowly.

They found that passing flavors over the tongue quickly caused the flavors to penetrate into the papillae gaps quicker, and that would register flavor more quickly.

And their findings could explain why taste buds were quicker to register a sweet compound with small molecular size as compared with those with large molecular size, such as salty flavors.

“Smaller molecules may diffuse quicker, and we think this could be the reason they move through the papillae gaps more quickly,” Zhao said.

This study focused on the early stages of taste – what happens before taste buds have even registered a flavor. Compared with the other senses – sight and sound, for example – taste operates on a sort of time-delay. We hear a sound almost as soon as it is emitted; it takes our taste buds a little longer to register flavor.

“That early response is changed depending on how the molecules of what we are consuming interact with the tongue’s surface,” Zhao said. “It is a complex process.”

Prior to this study, scientists knew that if they dropped a flavored solution onto a person’s tongue, the intensity of that solution’s taste would increase over time. But they did not know why that happened.

Zhao said scientists assumed the increase in flavor had something to do with papillae, so for this study, his lab focused on studying the mechanics of how papillae work.

“Our taste buds are important,” he said. “They help us figure out what food to eat, how much food to eat, and how to balance the body’s nutritional needs with its energy needs.”

Taste buds also help humans avoid poisonous substances, can help identify edible and nutritious foods, and contribute to the cravings humans feel for things like ice cream and potato chips.

Zhao said his lab decided to focus on the early stages of taste because it is connected to so many other public health issues, including nutrition and obesity.

Source: The Ohio State University


Today’s Comic

Lower-Sodium Turkey Breast Wins Sensory Test Over Full-Salt Option

University of Massachusetts Amherst food scientists produced a lower-salt processed turkey that consumers in a blind sensory test preferred to a full-salt version, according to a study published in the international journal LWT-Food Science and Technology.

“This isn’t the holy grail, but it is one strategy that can help reduce salt content in processed foods,” says senior author Amanda Kinchla, extension associate professor of food science.

Researchers like Kinchla and her team are constantly looking for ways to reduce sodium in food products because so many health risks are associated with a diet high in sodium, including high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease and kidney problems. Americans typically consume more than half of their calories from ultra-processed food, which is the top source of sodium in the typical diet. Processed deli meats fall into this high-sodium category.

“The U.S. significantly overconsumes sodium from so many places,” Kinchla says. “We know this, but we aren’t changing. Consumers don’t want to buy food with known reduced salt, because they think it’s going to taste yucky.”

Processed foods are high in sodium because of the sodium diffusion that takes place inside the food during processing. Food product developers have discovered that they can manipulate the size of salt particles and use less if the salt hits the tongue first and lingers. “That is amazing and clever, but it doesn’t work with deli meat or foods with a lot of water. The salt will dissolve; you can’t keep it on the surface,” Kinchla explains.

Under Kinchla’s guidance, food science Ph.D. candidate Janam Pandya and undergraduate student Kelsey Decker tested out a novel way to reduce the excessive amount of sodium in processed turkey meat by using different sodium salt species.

The food scientists used turkey breast meat as a protein model to investigate whether limiting the sodium diffusion rates could reduce overall sodium while maintaining a quality of saltiness that consumers accept. To test this out, they incorporated sodium anionic salts, which held a larger structure or molecular weight than sodium chloride, or table salt.

“We processed a portion of turkey breast in traditional sodium chloride [table salt] and in these other salt species and measured a lot of different things: the morphology, texture and the sodium diffusion rate in the meat with different variables, such as processing time, temperature and salt conditions,” lead researcher Pandya explains.

The scientists then recruited 46 people on the UMass Amherst campus to participate in a sensory evaluation experiment of three different turkey samples: the control sample with full salt; and two with reduced sodium, one using disodium phosphate and the other a blend of sodium chloride and disodium phosphate.

The overall favorite was the turkey processed with a 50-50 blend of sodium chloride and disodium phosphate. It had 20% less sodium than the full-salt control, compared to 41% less sodium in the disodium phosphate sample. “Sensory results reported that the turkey prepared in a blend of two sodium salts was perceived to be as salty as the control while providing juiciness and texture scores that were preferred over the control,” the study states.

Kinchla explains the results: “In our study, the use of sodium salts with a larger molecular structure, such as disodium phosphate, slowed down the overall sodium diffusion rate inside the turkey meat but left enough sodium on the surface of the meat for people to perceive enough saltiness,” she says.

The study’s “promising results” suggest this is just one of the potentially successful strategies food scientists can pursue to make processed food healthier. “One approach is to find several small ways across the food supply to lower sodium without compromising the quality of the product,” Kinchla says.

Source: University of Massachusetts Amherst

There’s No Copyrighting Taste, Rules EU Court In Dutch Cheese Case

Laurel Wamsley wrote . . . . . . . . .

It was a classic high-stakes legal battle between two Dutch makers of herbed cheese spread.

On one side, Heksenkaas. The name means “witches’ cheese,” and it’s a cream cheese spread with fresh herbs that was created in 2007 and sold by a company called Levola.

On the other, the cheese spread Witte Wievenkaas, made by a company called Smilde, which apparently tastes very similar to Heksenkaas. (This reporter, regrettably, lacks a reliable purveyor of Dutch cheeses.)

Levola said Smidle had infringed its copyright on the taste of Heksenkaas, and asked Dutch courts to order Smilde to stop selling its similar cheese.

The case was sent to Netherland’s regional court, which asked the Court of Justice of the European Union to answer this question: Can taste be copyrighted?

Nope, the court announced today.

In order to be protected by copyright, it said, the taste of a food product must be capable of being classified as a “work” – which requires first, “an original intellectual creation,” and second, an “expression” of that creation. And that work must be expressed in a manner that makes it identifiable with sufficient precision and objectivity.

And on that last requirement, the court found that “the taste of a food product cannot be identified with precision and objectivity.”

“Unlike, for example, a literary, pictorial, cinematographic or musical work, which is a precise and objective expression, the taste of a food product will be identified essentially on the basis of taste sensations and experiences, which are subjective and variable. They depend on, amongst other things, factors particular to the person tasting the product concerned, such as age, food preferences and consumption habits, as well as on the environment or context in which the product is consumed.”

In other words, the taste of a food depends in part on who is tasting it.

Part of the problem for Levola’s case is that, well, there’s no accounting for taste.

“Even an expert had to admit it’s really difficult to describe what a taste is,” Tobias Cohen Jehoram, a lawyer for Smilde told The New York Times. “Our argument was if you can’t describe what your monopoly is you have not sufficiently stated your claim.”

And then there’s the concept, enshrined in an international copyright treaty, that expressions can be copyrighted but ideas cannot.

“Copyright isn’t supposed to be used to stop the spread and use of ideas,” Joshua Marshall, an intellectual property lawyer at the European law firm Fieldfisher told the Times. “The taste of a leek-and-garlic cheese is really an idea.”

A very good idea, now that he mentions it.

The cheese case isn’t the EU’s only recent visit to the food court. Earlier this year, it ruled that Nestlé’s four-fingered, trapezoidal Kit Kat may not be distinctive enough to merit trademark protection across Europe.

Source: npr

Want to Know What Your Favorite Song Tastes Like? There’s a Machine for That

A Japanese company has designed a machine that gives you a taste of any song you choose—quite literally.

The developers of Squeeze Music claim the juke box-come-juicer is able to analyze a song’s waveform for feelings, be they happy, exciting, romantic, sentimental, or sad, and turn them into drink flavors mixed together in proportion to the qualities of each song. Each emotion correlates to a specific flavor. Happy = sweet, exciting = sour, romantic = astringent, sentimental = salty and sad = bitter.

If you feel that doesn’t cover the whole expanse of human emotion, don’t worry: The Nomura Open Innovation Lab (NOMBLAB), which developed Squeeze Music, is working on expanding the range with five more feelings. Right now the juice dispenser is just a prototype, but its inventors hope to commercialize it one day.

Watch video at You Tube (1:24 minutes) . . . . .

How to Improve Your Sense of Smell — and Why You’d Want To

James Gaddy wrote . . . . . .

Superman could fly. The Incredible Hulk had incredible strength. The Flash had lightning speed. Even Deadpool had healing powers. Among superheroes, it isn’t that sexy to have one of your regular five senses heightened, much less become a mutant with a super sniffer.

Bianca Bosker, author of the new book Cork Dork (Penguin Random House), acknowledges that our noses occupy a lower tier among the senses. Even the phrase “that smells” reeks of ammonia. “We have a real bias about smell,” said Bosker in an interview. “Most of us have learned at an early age that this is a sense that does not pay to cultivate.” Best case scenario: You end up a sommelier.

Over the course of 18 months, Bosker spent a year with some of the top oenophiles in the world to try to understand what is the big deal about wine. She lugged bottles of Mondeuse noire as a cellar rat at L’Apicio, sneaked sips of Domaine Jamet while staging at Marea, tried to upsell Israeli Cabernets while waiting tables at Terroir, guzzled Burgundy at La Paulée de New York, and held blind tastings at Eleven Madison Park—now the world’s No.1 restaurant—that, on one occasion, included a $1,765 Riesling from Alsace.

In between, she met with scent scientists to see if there were a shortcut to becoming a wine connoisseur.

“I started out wondering if we can even hone our sense of smell,” she said. In other words, are we born confined to a certain amount of sensitivity, or can we get better if we really try?

Bosker traces our olfactory inferiority complex back to the days of Aristotle, who prophesied that “man can smell things only poorly … because his sense-organ is not accurate.” In the 19th century, Darwin’s theory of evolution seemed to prove that humans had evolved beyond the need to know their noses. The French scientist Paul Broca found that as animals ascended the evolutionary chain, their limbic lobe, a part of the brain then thought to control our sense of smell, decreased in size. It was so small in humans, he concluded, “the delicacy of his olfactory sense is … of no utility in his life.” The famous tongue map—the idea that the front part of your tongue is sweet, and the back bitter—wasn’t disproved until 1974.

The scientists Bosker spoke with say the biggest problem is that most people don’t even know the difference between taste and smell.

“We assume that everything that happens in our mouth is taste, which is not true,” she explained. “We confuse one for the other, when we’d never confuse sight and sound.” One study she cited from the University of Pennsylvania’s Smell and Taste Center found that most people failed to diagnose themselves properly. People who complained about losing their sense of taste were three times more likely to be suffering from a smell disorder.

But there is hope. New research by the University of Dresden’s Smell and Taste Clinic found that the part of the brain responsible for processing smell can grow with exercise, sort of how bench pressing pumps your pecs. Even those with just an average sense of smell can increase the size of their olfactory bulbs via a regimen of trying out four aromas, twice a day, for about 30 seconds each.

“The first thing we have to do is get over our disdain for taste and smell,” Bosker said. It’s a curious paradox: Enlightened humans today obsess over spending time and money to find food that tastes better, whether it’s organic blueberries or third-wave coffee, and yet, she continued, “We rarely train ourselves to taste well. We let price and labels and menu descriptions substitute for our own sensory experiences.”

Here are three steps to achieving a more highly evolved nose.

Establish Your Baseline

Even if you are doing this to better appreciate wine or food, sharpening your sense of smell doesn’t start at the table.

To establish a base level of smell—your own scent-focused control group, in other words—smoking is out, for obvious reasons. Also banned: coffee, hard alcohol, hot sauce, perfume and cologne, overly strong shampoo, most salt, and toothpaste. (Don’t worry; the last only applies just before you are going to do a taste or smelling exercise.)

Many sommeliers also refuse to drink anything above tepid temperature, which also means no hot tea or soup.

“Part of that is self-deprivation,” Bosker said. “Some are superstitious and less scientific, but I was willing to give any of it a try, because I wanted to improve as quickly as I could.”

She gave up Listerine on days that she worked on her project, because it was too strong. Onions and garlic, too, fell by the wayside as she learned that those flavors lingered in her mouth longer than others. “We would always show up to tastings hungry, because your body is more attuned to smells when you’re hungry,” she continued.

Practice the Art of Description

One helpful exercise, Bosker said, is to try to describe all the smells over the course of your daily routine. It might be coming up with tasting notes of the shampoo you use every morning all the way to the toothpaste you use at night. Push yourself to go beyond obvious descriptors: minty, fresh, cooling, sweet.

“If you’ve ever learned a language or even a word in your life, you have the ability to become a great smeller,” Bosker suggests. “When you think about learning a language, it’s not that your hearing gets better. It is about taking those foreign sounds and attaching meaning to them.”

So having the right words to describe what you’re tasting is essential to understanding it and in communicating to others, which is why you end up with florid descriptions on bottles and in wine magazines: “chalky,” “rubbery,” “velvety,” “essence of toast.”

“I realized I had to visualize and to articulate it,” she said. “Because smells bypass part of our conscious brain, we don’t really notice them all the time. But if you pay attention and try to describe it, you can understand it better.”

Exercise Your Nose

The expensive shortcut is a $400 kit called Le Nez du Vin. (If wine isn’t your thing, other kits focus on whiskey and coffee.) It’s a collection of glass vials that contain liquid versions of the aroma of grass, smoke, blackberry, and cranberry, up to a total of 54 different scents.

“Instead of sit-ups, I would smell four vials of these samples every day,” Bosker said. “Then I would alternate every week, trying to internalize what is black currant, or lemon, and then do them blind at the end of the week, to see if I’d mastered them. And at the end of the month, they were like smell flash cards.”

Apparently, it worked. When Bosker went in for her sommelier exam, she smelled the ripe raspberry, strawberry, blackberry, plum, blueberry, cassis, with a hint of pyrazines, to correctly deduce that it was a Cabernet Sauvignon from California, one- to three-years-old. And by the end, when she replicated a French and Italian study that used an fMRI machine to compare the brains of expert wine drinkers vs. those of amateurs, her own scan lit up like a professional. Instead of just processing flavor in an emotional way, which is how the brain of an amateur does it, she was using parts of her brain reserved for high-functioning skills, including reason, memory, and cognitive thinking.

Bosker also began picking up on information she had neglected before, “little clues that add texture and richness to daily life,” she said. She began to discern neighborhoods in New York that have a specific scent, and she became attuned to the smell of petrichor in the morning—the aroma when the earth is wet after a rain.

The only downside? In New York, she began to become aware of specific smells in subways stations. Now, she said, there are “clues that tell me where we are before we get there.” The new 72nd Street Q stop, for instance, smells of plastic and hairspray, she says. The Times Square stop, on the other hand, has notes of grease, dirty diapers, and blue cheese.

Source: Bloomberg