Issue Date: March 30, 2011
Although waistlines across the U.S. continue to expand, many Americans still bypass low- and no-calorie soft drinks in favor of their sugary counterparts because of bitter off-notes they perceive from artificial sweeteners. Two molecules that can block those bitter flavors, and therefore enhance the taste of artificially sweetened food, beverages, and even medicines, were discussed on Tuesday at the ACS National Meeting in Anaheim.
"There's a strong push from the market to develop healthier products, and reducing calories in beverages is seen as one of the main goals of the food and beverage industry," Ioana Ungureanu, a senior research scientist with Givaudan in Cincinnati and one of the ACS meeting speakers, tells C&EN. "Our goal was to introduce new flavors that would reduce bitterness and make artificially sweetened beverages more appealing to the wider public."
There was a time, Ungureanu says, when discovering bitterness blockers was a more subjective scientific process. Tasters would simply test different compounds and note those that eliminated bitter flavors. But GIV3727, a bitterness blocker that's already showing up in food and beverages, was identified using bitterness receptor assays. The compound turns out to be quite promiscuous, blocking six of the 27 known bitterness receptors in humans. Taste tests confirm that it reduces the bitter aftertaste of all four commercially available artificial sweeteners: saccharin, aspartame, sucralose, and acesulfame-K.
Ungureanu says she and her coworkers identified through high-throughput screening a second, more potent, bitterness blocker. The compound, called GIV3616, blocks a different array of bitterness receptors and works well in combination with GIV3727, she says. Givaudan hopes the product will be approved for use as a flavoring by the end of the year.
"We always develop our products with the final application in mind," Ungureanu notes. A good bitterness blocker needs to have good activity, with low toxicity and high solubility at a reasonable price, and its synthesis must be amenable to large-scale production, she says.
Developing such compounds is important work, says Michael H. Tunick, a research chemist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Wyndmoor, Penn. "By blocking bitterness, people will be more likely to consume healthier foods and medicines."
So will there ever be a single compound that blocks all bitterness receptors? Probably not. The chemistry of taste, Ungureanu says, is far too nuanced.
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