Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Taste


The cultural diversity of culinary practice, as illustrated by the variety of regional cuisines, raises the question of whether there are any general patterns that determine the ingredient combinations used in food today or principles that transcend individual tastes and recipes. We introduce a flavor network that captures the flavor compounds shared by culinary ingredients. Western cuisines show a tendency to use ingredient pairs that share many flavor compounds, supporting the so-called food pairing hypothesis. By contrast, East Asian cuisines tend to avoid compound sharing ingredients. Given the increasing availability of information on food preparation, our data-driven investigation opens new avenues towards a systematic understanding of culinary practice.

Concepts: Taste, Asia, Flavor, Cooking, Tendency


Here we present evidence of phytoliths preserved in carbonised food deposits on prehistoric pottery from the western Baltic dating from 6,100 cal BP to 5750 cal BP. Based on comparisons to over 120 European and Asian species, our observations are consistent with phytolith morphologies observed in modern garlic mustard seed (Alliaria petiolata (M. Bieb) Cavara & Grande). As this seed has a strong flavour, little nutritional value, and the phytoliths are found in pots along with terrestrial and marine animal residues, these findings are the first direct evidence for the spicing of food in European prehistoric cuisine. Our evidence suggests a much greater antiquity to the spicing of foods than is evident from the macrofossil record, and challenges the view that plants were exploited by hunter-gatherers and early agriculturalists solely for energy requirements, rather than taste.

Concepts: Plant, Food, Taste, Flavor, Plant morphology, Cooking, Circumstantial evidence, Spices


Considerable mechanistic data indicate there may be a sixth basic taste: fat. However, evidence demonstrating that the sensation of nonesterified fatty acids (NEFA, the proposed stimuli for “fat taste”) differs qualitatively from other tastes is lacking. Using perceptual mapping, we demonstrate that medium and long-chain NEFA have a taste sensation that is distinct from other basic tastes (sweet, sour, salty, and bitter). Although some overlap was observed between these NEFA and umami taste, this overlap is likely due to unfamiliarity with umami sensations rather than true similarity. Shorter chain fatty acids stimulate a sensation similar to sour, but as chain length increases this sensation changes. Fat taste oral signaling, and the different signals caused by different alkyl chain lengths, may hold implications for food product development, clinical practice, and public health policy.

Concepts: Nutrition, Fatty acid, Fat, Food, Fatty acid metabolism, Difference, Taste, Tongue


Food tastes better and people eat more of it when eaten with company than alone. Although several explanations have been proposed for this social facilitation of eating, they share the basic assumption that this phenomenon is achieved by the existence of co-eating others. Here, we demonstrate a similar “social” facilitation of eating in the absence of other individuals. Elderly participants tasted a piece of popcorn alone while in front of a mirror (which reflects the participant themselves eating popcorn) or in front of a wall-reflecting monitor, and were found to eat more popcorn and rate it better tasting in the self-reflecting condition than in the monitor condition. Similar results were found for younger adults. The results suggest that the social facilitation of eating does not necessarily require the presence of another individual. Furthermore, we observed a similar “social” facilitation of eating even when participants ate a piece of popcorn in front of a static picture of themselves eating, suggesting that static visual information of “someone” eating food is sufficient to produce the “social” facilitation of eating.

Concepts: Nutrition, Participation, Eating, Food, Observation, Philosophy of science, Taste, Food and drink


Humans can discriminate several million different colors and almost half a million different tones, but the number of discriminable olfactory stimuli remains unknown. The lay and scientific literature typically claims that humans can discriminate 10,000 odors, but this number has never been empirically validated. We determined the resolution of the human sense of smell by testing the capacity of humans to discriminate odor mixtures with varying numbers of shared components. On the basis of the results of psychophysical testing, we calculated that humans can discriminate at least 1 trillion olfactory stimuli. This is far more than previous estimates of distinguishable olfactory stimuli. It demonstrates that the human olfactory system, with its hundreds of different olfactory receptors, far outperforms the other senses in the number of physically different stimuli it can discriminate.

Concepts: Science, Sense, Olfaction, Olfactory system, Primate, Taste, Odor, Olfactory fatigue


Obesity is a growing epidemic that causes many serious health related complications. While the causes of obesity are complex, there is conclusive evidence that overconsumption coupled with a sedentary lifestyle is the primary cause of this medical condition. Dietary consumption is controlled by appetite which is in turn regulated by multiple neuronal systems, including the taste system. However, the relationship between taste and obesity has not been well defined. Growing evidence suggests that taste perception in the brain is altered in obese animals and humans, however no studies have determined if there are altered taste responses in the peripheral taste receptor cells, which is the initiation site for the detection and perception of taste stimuli.

Concepts: Medicine, Brain, Nutrition, Hypertension, Obesity, Overweight, Taste, Sedentary lifestyle


Shearwaters deprived of their olfactory sense before being displaced to distant sites have impaired homing ability but it is unknown what the role of olfaction is when birds navigate freely without their sense of smell. Furthermore, treatments used to induce anosmia and to disrupt magneto-reception in displacement experiments might influence non-specific factors not directly related to navigation and, as a consequence, the results of displacement experiments can have multiple interpretations. To address this, we GPS-tracked the free-ranging foraging trips of incubating Scopoli’s shearwaters within the Mediterranean Sea. As in previous experiments, shearwaters were either made anosmic with 4% zinc sulphate solution, magnetically impaired by attachment of a strong neodymium magnet or were controls. We found that birds from all three treatments embarked on foraging trips, had indistinguishable at-sea schedules of behaviour and returned to the colony having gained mass. However, we found that in the pelagic return stage of their foraging trips, anosmic birds were not oriented towards the colony though coastal navigation was unaffected. These results support the case for zinc sulphate having a specific effect on the navigational ability of shearwaters and thus the view that seabirds consult an olfactory map to guide them across seascapes.

Concepts: Bird, Sense, Olfactory bulb, Olfaction, Taste, Odor, Anosmia, Hyposmia


Decreasing dietary sodium intake, which can be achieved by reducing salt content in food, is recommended. Salt contributes to the taste of foods and makes them more enjoyable. Whether a food is liked or disliked is an important determinant of food intake, especially among children. However, the role of salt in children’s food acceptance has received little attention. The impact of salt content on children’s hedonic rating and intake of two foods was investigated in children. Using a within-subject crossover design, we recruited 75 children (8-11 years) to participate in five lunches in their school cafeteria. The target foods were green beans and pasta. The added salt content was 0, 0.6 or 1.2 g/100 g. The children’s intake (g) of all lunch items was measured. The children provided their hedonic rating of the food, a preference ranking and a saltiness ranking in the laboratory. Children could rank the foods according to salt content, and they preferred the two saltier options. A food-specific effect of salt content on intake was observed. Compared to the intermediate level (0.6 g salt/100 g), not adding salt decreased green bean intake (-21%; pā€Š=ā€Š0.002), and increasing the salt content increased pasta intake (+24%; p<0.0001). Structural Equation Modeling was used to model the relative weights of the determinants of intake. It showed that the primary driver of food intake was the child's hunger; the second most important factor was the child's hedonic rating of the food, regardless of its salt content, and the last factor was the child's preference for the particular salt content of the food. In conclusion, salt content has a positive and food-specific effect on intake; it impacted food preferences and intake differently in children. Taking into account children's preferences for salt instead of their intake may lead to excessive added salt.

Concepts: Nutrition, Allergy, Food, Sodium chloride, Taste, Sodium, Preference, Restaurant


Our ability of screening broad communities for clinically asymptomatic diseases critically drives population health. Sensory chewing gums are presented targeting the tongue as 24/7 detector allowing diagnosis by “anyone, anywhere, anytime”. The chewing gum contains peptide sensors consisting of a protease cleavable linker in between a bitter substance and a microparticle. Matrix metalloproteinases in the oral cavity, as upregulated in peri-implant disease, specifically target the protease cleavable linker while chewing the gum, thereby generating bitterness for detection by the tongue. The peptide sensors prove significant success in discriminating saliva collected from patients with peri-implant disease versus clinically asymptomatic volunteers. Superior outcome is demonstrated over commercially available protease-based tests in saliva. “Anyone, anywhere, anytime” diagnostics are within reach for oral inflammation. Expanding this platform technology to other diseases in the future features this diagnostic as a massive screening tool potentially maximizing impact on population health.Early detection of gum inflammation caused by dental implants helps prevent tissue damage. Here, the authors present a peptide sensor that generates a bitter taste when cleaved by proteases present in peri-implant disease, embed it in a chewing gum, and compare the probe to existing sensors using patient saliva.

Concepts: Enzyme, Medical terms, Diagnosis, Taste, Dental plaque, Metalloproteinase, Sensor, Oral hygiene


Intravital microscopy is a powerful tool in neuroscience but has not been adapted to the taste sensory organ due to anatomical constraint. Here we developed an imaging window to facilitate microscopic access to the murine tongue in vivo. Real-time two-photon microscopy allowed the visualization of three-dimensional microanatomy of the intact tongue mucosa and functional activity of taste cells in response to topically administered tastants in live mice. Video microscopy also showed the calcium activity of taste cells elicited by small-sized tastants in the blood circulation. Molecular kinetic analysis suggested that intravascular taste sensation takes place at the microvilli on the apical side of taste cells after diffusion of the molecules through the pericellular capillaries and tight junctions in the taste bud. Our results demonstrate the capabilities and utilities of the new tool for taste research in vivo.

Concepts: Blood, Biology, Heart, Blood vessel, Organ, Taste, Gustatory system, Taste bud