Thursday, September 18, 2008


The four basic tastes reflecting sensations like sweetness, saltiness, sourness and bitterness are universally recognized. Japanese claim that a fifth taste exists that is characteristic of meat and cheese or proteins, they call 'umami'. Why India and Mexico did not press for the 'pungency' sensation is not clear. Physiologically each of these tastes is supposed to regulate the satiety factor that controls the food intake and maintain homeostasis. During the last decade many startling developments through scientific endeavor have forced food scientists to modify the current thinking on human response to various foods. Sugar delivered through solid foods and beverages behaves differently is unthinkable but for some data available to day regarding its role in obesity. High Fructose Corn Syrup ( HFCS), an ingredient in soft drinks is presumed to be responsible for the urge to over eat resulting in uncontrolled weight gain. Some how the sugar
in HFCS fails to signal satiety leading to intake of more without actual need and excess energy is diverted to fat synthesis and accumulation in the body. 
Sugar and the sweet sensation it provides are universally enjoyed without exception all over the world. But it also is a causative factor for many health disorders making it suspect in the eyes of many consumers. Diabetes and obesity are two health conditions that force people to cut down on foods rich in sugar. Availability of alternate sweeteners like Saccharine, Aspartame, Neotame, Sucralose, Stevia glycosides and a few others, all of them controversial with some people entertaining reservations about their safety, are used to varying extent to satisfy the sweet palates by sugar compromised population. The scientific discovery that the intensity of sweet taste sensation by sucrose can be attenuated by some chemicals in trace amounts is going to revive the fortunes of sugar industry when commercially exploited. The chemical being made by the US company Senomyx can replace volumes of sugar with minute quantities. Coke and Cadbury are already
gearing up to take this route to reduce the quantity of sugar considerably in their products immediately. Some news for cheering up diabetics!
Salt, another culprit damned by the nutrition experts for health impairment due to blood pressure which is becoming a major epidemic causing other complications like heart and kidney diseases, also can be reduced in snack and savory products without sacrificing the taste by using another chemical discovered by Senomyx. This development will certainly revolutionize the industry giving it fresh lease of life. While sweetness is easy to be shunned, restricting salt in foods is much more difficult. Use of Potassium chloride is common to reduce sodium content in foods but cost-wise it is not considered a viable alternative.  Jumbing into this bandwagon, Nestle is already using the flavor modulator in their savory products. Conscious and some times aggressive programs in many countries to bring down salt consumption voluntarily are not making the desired progress and the Senomyx chemical will help them to reach their targets. Globally this is a welcome
news for the consumers.

Senomyx which has a library of 5 lakh synthetic chemicals and natural compounds will be remembered for their contribution to the global effort in combating life debilitating afflictions like diabetes and hypertension. Some of the chemicals with them are also have sparing effect on 'feel cool' flavors like menthol, 'feel fatty' tastes and feel creamy sensations. Taste buds embedded in papilla, spread across the tongue ( the bumps) can sense all flavors. Taste enhancer molecules strengthen the likelihood that sugar molecules and receptors will bind properly, intensifying the sweet sensation even if only few sugar molecules are present. Related to this is the possibility of blocking bitterness in cocoa based products or reducing  pungency in high chili products or reducing acidity in highly sour products like some juices.
The safety of these chemicals does not seem to be an issue as they are used in minute quantities not requiring the elaborate safety evacuation and mandatory approval. While the above development appears to be exiting, how far the consumers will condescend to this revolutionary new approach and accept the products unreservedly remains to be seen. 

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