Swallowing cold medicine or drinking diet beverages could become a more pleasant experience thanks to a new compound that blocks taste buds' ability to detect bitter flavors.
The compound, whose discovery was reported today at the American Chemical Society's National Meeting and Exposition in Anaheim, Calif., could be added to foods and beverages to make them more palatable. [Read: Why Some People Crave More Salt]
"A lot of people are very sensitive to bitter taste in medicines, calorie-free sweeteners, and foods," Ioana Ungureanu, a research scientist at Givaudan Flavors Corporation in Cincinnati, said in a statement. "We'd like to be able to make their diets more enjoyable by masking the off-putting flavors of bitterness. Blocking these flavors we call 'off-notes' could help consumers eat healthier and more varied diets. It could encourage them to switch to non-calorie soft drinks and help children and seniors swallow bitter-tasting medications."
The bitterness blocker, known as GIV3616, is not the first compound capable of masking bitter tastes from the tongue. That honor belongs to GIV3727, which improves the taste of artificial sweeteners such as saccharin and sucralose.
GIV3616 is more potent than its predecessor and dissolves more quickly in food and beverages, Ungureanu said.
As people have become more concerned about the amount of salt, fat and sugar in processed foods, interest in flavor blockers has jumped, according to the American Chemical Society. Instead of masking bad or bitter flavors with salty, fatty ingredients, food manufacturers are interested in using chemicals that interfere with the taste receptors on the tongue, leaving them temporarily unable to detect unpleasant flavors.
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Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.