Is there a way to bypass the garlic breath that sticks around for hours after you ingest it? How big of a role does color play in our food preferences? And when will taste-o-vision be in everyone’s homes?
Thomas Hofmann, a professor of food chemistry and molecular sensory science at the Technical University of Munich in Germany did a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) to put a dent in our understanding of flavor. Grab your science nerd hats (and maybe a medical dictionary), because here are the highlights.
On if he ascribes to the idea of the five basic tastes: sweetness, sourness, saltiness, bitterness, and umami-ness:
“Yes, there are five basic taste qualities identified today on the phenomological as well as genetic level. Next to the five basic tastes with one receptor for sweet, one for umami, one for sour, one for salty and 25 for bitter, we are equipped with about 400 olfactory receptors.”
On why garlic lingers on the breath longer than other foods:
“After ingestion, some of the garlic odorants are metabolized to give allyl methyl sulfide (AMS). This AMS is the only odor-active metabolite formed, is circulated in the blood stream and then exhaled via the lungs, thus giving rise to the bad garlic breath.”
On how color effects our food choices:
“Indeed, our chemical senses can be fooled by other sensory inputs. In particular false colors induce another expectation in our brain that is then not met by the type of aroma or taste we perceive. These cases of “sensory incongruency” challenges our decision on what we really perceive.”
On whether there will ever be taste-o-vision:
“This will be possible in the future. By means of flavor synthesizers, the odor codes of foods or any natural flavor may be re-engineered in real time to deliver authentic odor experiences. Examples are another dimension in cinema wher you can smell what the actors may smell. Another option may be odor messages send by your smart phone.”On whether the 6th taste receptor for fat is scientifically known or just a myth:“There is quite solid science out there demonstrating that we are able to sensorially detect fat. Interestingly, it could be shown that it is not the fatty acid receptor activation alone which gives us the fatty or creamy oral sensation. More precise, the fatty acid receptor activation needs to be accompanied by the trigeminal sensing of hydrocarbon moieties to induce an enhanced fat perception.”
On whether it’s possible to enhance the tasting experience by leading the brain through a specific sequence of flavors:
“Indeed, the sequential combination of certain flavors are horrible, like tooth paste and orange juice. In this case an undesirable bitter taste is perceived that is mediated by bitter taste receptors which respond to the compounds in one food and are co-activated and/or allosterically modulated by compounds present in the other foods. However, most of the phenomena are not clarified on a molecular level and needs future investigations.”
On how he understands the difference between “flavor molecules” and the experience of tasting: “Usually, about 3-50 odor molecules have been shown to create the aroma of each and every food. The experience of tasting now comes by integration of the sensory input in our brain and this is also affected by other sensory inputs besides taste and smell, like vision, texture perception etc.”