Bitterness blocker aims to make food more appealing

Monday, 28 March, 2011

With millions of adults and children avoiding nutritious foods because of the bitter taste, and gagging or vomiting when forced to take bitter liquid medicines, scientists have reported an advance towards a high-tech version of Mary Poppins’ solution.

It is not a spoonful of sugar to help the stuff go down, they reported at the 241st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), but a new and improved ‘bitterness blocker’.

“A lot of people are very sensitive to bitter taste in medicines, calorie-free sweeteners and foods,” said Ioana Ungureanu, who described the new substance at the ACS meeting, one of the largest scientific conferences of 2011.

“We’d like to be able to make their diets more enjoyable by masking the off-putting flavours of bitterness. Blocking these flavours we call off-notes could help consumers eat healthier and more varied diets. It could encourage them to switch to non-calorie soft drinks and help children and seniors swallow bitter-tasting medications.”

The new bitterness blocker, known only at this point as GIV3616, works by blocking some of the bitterness receptors on the tongue.

Givaudan scientists previously discovered the first commercially feasible substance capable of blocking bitter taste in humans, called GIV3727. They immediately realised that it could be used as the model for developing blockers for other taste receptors, including substances that might make liquid medicines or bitter foods more palatable.

The new compound, Ungureanu, a scientist at Givaudan, said, is more potent and can dissolve more quickly in foods and beverages. “It works at levels on the order of parts per million and blocks flavours using 10 times less material than what was needed previously.

“Sensitivity to many foods is partly due to genetics,” Ungureanu said. “Recent studies have estimated that a large portion of the population - almost 25% or 75 million people - are known as supertasters who have heightened sensitivity to bitter foods. Our compound could one day make supertasters’ coffee more smooth or their veggies more appetising.”

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