Magnifying Taste: New Chemicals Trick the Brain into Eating Less

From Scientific American:

Sugar Humans are hardwired to love the sweet, savory and salty foods that provide the energy, protein and electrolytes we need. In an age of mass-produced products laden with sugar and salt, however, our taste proclivities can readily bring on obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes—all among society’s biggest health problems. But what if a handful of tiny compounds could fool our brains into eating differently? That is the idea behind the new science of flavor modulation. Scientists who have unlocked the long-standing mystery of taste biology are developing inexpensive yet potent compounds that make foods taste sweeter, saltier and more savory (heartier) than they really are. By adding tiny amounts of these modulators to traditional foods, manufacturers could reduce the amount of sugar, salt and monosodium glutamate (MSG) needed to satisfy, resulting in healthier products.

San Diego–based Senomyx is at the forefront of this new technology, and large companies are responding. Nestlé started incorporating Senomyx’s savory flavor modulators in its bouillon products last year. Coca-Cola and Cadbury aim to begin using Senomyx’s compounds early in 2009. Senomyx is also designing bitterness blockers to make less palatable foods taste better, which could broaden the world’s sources of nutrients. For example, companies could use soy protein more widely, potentially feeding more people, if they could mask its bitter aftertaste. Such blockers could also make medicines taste better, which would encourage people to take them. By tricking our taste buds, Senomyx could save food makers a heaping teaspoon of money, allowing them to replace volumes of sugar, salt and other ingredients with minute quantities of cheap compounds. More important, taste modulators could revolutionize our health, making what tastes good to us actually be good for us.

More here.