Scientists sniff out body's caramel receptor

Monday, 18 October, 2021

Scientists sniff out body's caramel receptor

Scientists have discovered the receptor in the body that is responsible for the detection of the distinct smell of caramel. Furaneol is the olfactant that gives caramel, breads, strawberries and a slew of other foods their burnt-sugar scent, but until now it was unknown which of the body’s 400 different olfactory receptors can detect the chemical. The molecule is already used in food production as a flavourant but this research will allow for a better understanding of how the body responds to the odourant and how to better utilise it in making foods tastier and aromatic.

The researchers, operating at the Leibniz Institute for Food Systems Biology at the Technical University of Munich, have been perusing the different chemicals that make up the various smells we find so delectable and looking out for which of the nose’s receptors can detect each smell.

They are using a unique testing system that uses modified cells able to detect scents in the same manner in which the body does. Using this set-up, the researchers discovered that only furaneol and homofuraneol were able to activate the receptor responsible for caramel-scent detection, OR5M3. A tiny amount of these molecules is all that it takes for the cells to ‘smell’ the chemical.

The scientists postulate that the testing system itself may prove useful in the future for assessing the quality of a smell that foods produce.

The team will continue their molecular quest to uncover secrets of smell and are hoping to discover how different odourants and the body’s receptors of them interact, which in turn will hopefully lead to more enjoyable foods.

The paper was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Image credit: ©

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