American Chemical Society AMA: We're Devin Peterson, Professor of Food Science and Technology at The Ohio State University, and Gary Reineccius, Professor of Food Science and Nutrition at University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. Ask us anything about flavor science!

Abstract

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Is there any work in "flavorless" flavorings, that is attempts to fool the body into thinking it's eating fatty/sugar filled food or having undesirable flavors be blocked by additives

Erfums

A current active area of research involves flavor modulation or the discovery of compounds that enhance the flavor attributes of food. For example the sweetness or saltiness of foods. The general goal is to provide reduced sugar/salt products that offer the flavor attributes consumers want. Another area is compounds that mask negative attributes, such as bitterness. Natural compounds are also typically sought after for these ingredients. Devin


What is the difference between natural and artificial flavors? And how do you feel about the labeling of food regarding flavoring? Thank you for your time!

mourning_dove

That is the most common question I get. It is interesting that to recreate a flavor, one must use the same chemicals as nature used and in the same quantities r it does not taste like the natural flavor. So the only difference between a natural flavor and an artificial is the artificial is simpler - nature may have used 100-200 compounds to create the flavor - man uses 20 or so.

Labeling? the consumer has the right to know what they are eating. They should be labeled for the consumer. I do not see this being labeled for safety or quality issues.

Gary


First of all thank you for doing this.

I work in the Hotel/Gastronomy sector in Germany. Since I do that on a professional level I got a lot more critical with the restaurants or dinners where I eat. It's the same with what I eat. A big part of the school training have been the minimum requirement by law for meat, cheese, processed foods etc.. We have relatively strict laws here compared to other countries, but I was still a bit shocked what can be named food.

Do you had simmular expiriences in your field of work?

Do you eat processed food at all?

Are there ingredients you avoid totally that are still allowed?

Zee-Utterman

Do you had similar experiences in your field of work?

Not really. Things I find on the grocery shelf generally meet the requirements of being considered a food. In terms of quality that might be a question but to be a food is pretty liberal.

Do you eat processed food at all?

Now that depends upon what you call processed food. Is a food that's been washed process? If an oil has been squeezed out of a soybean – is it processed? How about milk that's been heated for safety purposes? What is processed? I tend to think of processed foods as being those foods that are formulated from several ingredients to make up some component of a meal.

Do I eat formulated foods? Not really other than ice cream, cheeses, yes, some breads and maybe a salad dressing. For my main meals I make them from what we call scratch – I buy fresh raw ingredients and prepare them at home. My wife and I enjoy cooking and especially wonderful food which comes largely from using good quality fresh ingredients.

Are there ingredients you avoid totally that are still allowed?

No not really. I may avoid the food because I do not like the quality or the flavor of the food but I do not look at packages and say I will not eat this because it contains a specific ingredient. These food additives are put into a food for specific purposes and I have a decent trust of our food industry and regulating bodies of what they use are safe. So I avoid them for quality purposes not from fear.

Gary


First, thanks for doing this! Taste and flavor are such interesting things to study.

I'm one of those super sensitive to cilantro people. I wish I wasn't. It's a pain. My same visceral reaction that I get with cilantro is also triggered by Wendy's pickles and to some extent bleach. Any idea what the exact chemical is that causes that instant expulsion/vomit reaction in those of us with the anti-cilantro gene?

thumperj

To me cilantro tastes like soap - needless to say I absently despise it. Fortunately my reaction is not as unpleasant as yours. I do not know what that is caused by – perhaps Devin can help.

Gary


First, thanks for doing this! Taste and flavor are such interesting things to study.

I'm one of those super sensitive to cilantro people. I wish I wasn't. It's a pain. My same visceral reaction that I get with cilantro is also triggered by Wendy's pickles and to some extent bleach. Any idea what the exact chemical is that causes that instant expulsion/vomit reaction in those of us with the anti-cilantro gene?

thumperj

Allergic reactions to food substances are well known within the population such as 2-3% of the population is sensitive to gluten. The extent of these reactions can vary, such as yours. Others have more severe inflammation reactions. This is generally thought to be part of biodiverity based on evolution. I don't know the particular compounds in the cilantro you are reponding too. But good to hear you can avoid them! Devin


I'm very interested to hear about Dr. Peterson's work with the FREC. What are some of the major ways to make healthier food more enjoyable from a food science perspective?

divvyflax

Thank you, we are also very excited about our work and to use science to positively impact society. Our work focuses on how to understand our ingredients better so they can perform at a higher level in foods. For example, we have breed wheat for decades to make it grow well for farmers (be high yielding) as this is makes food more economical/affordable for the consumer. It is also impacts how much the farmer is paid for their work. While these strategies have been beneficial to make the ingredient widely available, consumption of whole grain foods is still challenged by lower flavor quality which ultimately limits consumption and related health impact. My team investigates the bases for these negative flavor attributes to provide knowledge that will help to develop new wheat lines that are more flavorful or bakers an improved ability to make whole grain bread with high flavor quality. Simply, the goal of our research is to enable the food industry the ability to make more nutritious foods consumer will enjoy and therefore eat. If you look at the top criteria that influence food choice among the population, flavor quality (acceptability) is right at the top of the list. I will end with a quote by Michelle Obama “We can help create a culture - imagine this - where our kids ask for healthy options instead of resisting them.”

Devin


So why do some folks love the favor of, say, licorice, and others can't stand the stuff (like me). Is it all mental? Is it in your genes? And why/how do tastes change over time?

sixtoe72

Flavor preferences vary based on many reasons. Humans can vary in senitivity to flavors (genetics) as well as your prior exposure patterns. This all play a role in if you like or dislike. Devin


So why do some folks love the favor of, say, licorice, and others can't stand the stuff (like me). Is it all mental? Is it in your genes? And why/how do tastes change over time?

sixtoe72

I would say the answer is all of the above plus some additional reasons. I happen to love pickled herring, liver and even pickled pigs feet. My wife is horrified when I eat these foods - she considers them obnoxious. I like them because my grandmother was from Sweden and she prepared these foods for us and we ate them as children. What you are exposed to influences liking.

Beyond that there is no question that genetic profile influences perception and liking. People do not taste things the same way and when someone doesn't like something it can be that that person is finding some part that flavor profile to be offensive - it just tastes different to them. The wonderful thing about this difference is if you like something, it is good and other people's opinions are totally irrelevant. I keep that in mind when I read wine reports for I like some wines that are not rated so highly and dislike some that are rated exceptional - we are never wrong about what is good (to us).

Why does taste change over time? Certainly aging has an influence - some functions do not stay the same. Perhaps some receptors we have change. I'm the wrong person to answer the question. I certainly understand that things change but I cannot provide good answers for why. Gary


I recently started reading Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss. Its really enlightening, in a terrifying way, to see how processed foods are engineered to be as addicting as possible in order to boost sales. Its not that the companies are evil, its that everytime theyve tried to make their foods healthier they lose money and market share.

Food companies have a lot of power over public health via the addictive qualities of their products and maybe even more importantly their marketing tactics, particularly to children. Its obvious that processed foods are a significant part of the obesity epidemic.

What do you think the ethics of working in processed foods are? Do you think there should be more government regulation on food content and marketing? What can food scientists do? Any comments in general about the relationship between processed foods and public health?

lMYMl

One has to keep in mind that everything we read is written by someone that has an agenda, a bias. One can go through topic after topic and select data, or examples that support their view and ignore contrary data. As a scientist one has to be conscious of bias and look at sound research and make decisions - unfortunately that is not always done and views reach the public that are incorrect. Oddly enough, individuals who have no training in the field post information on the Internet and it is believed as absolute truth and information from a knowledgeable source is discounted as being prejudiced or biased. This is unfortunate. I read books and go to movies like you've cited. I'm certain there is some truth in the story but there's also a lot of missed truth. So read carefully and with an open mind.

What do I think of the ethics of working in processed foods? It sounds like you're assuming that all processed foods are harmful and people should not be working in that area. I do not eat processed foods because I don't like the flavor or the quality of most processed foods – I have no problem with the safety or nutrition for that matter. I raise a garden I shop the periphery of stores only out of the love of good tasting food. The bottom line statement about processed foods is that a life expectancy is much longer than it's ever been. If we want to go back to the Paleolithic diet where people died at 26 years of age, no thank you. I do not see evidence that our diet today leads to a short life expectancy - I think some of our choices do. Gary


I recently started reading Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss. Its really enlightening, in a terrifying way, to see how processed foods are engineered to be as addicting as possible in order to boost sales. Its not that the companies are evil, its that everytime theyve tried to make their foods healthier they lose money and market share.

Food companies have a lot of power over public health via the addictive qualities of their products and maybe even more importantly their marketing tactics, particularly to children. Its obvious that processed foods are a significant part of the obesity epidemic.

What do you think the ethics of working in processed foods are? Do you think there should be more government regulation on food content and marketing? What can food scientists do? Any comments in general about the relationship between processed foods and public health?

lMYMl

There are specific tastes, such as sweet and salty that are well known to favorability impact the acceptablity of foods. My grandmother added a lot of sugar to her pie and lard to the pie crust. I don't think the scientific literature supports this making foods "Addictive". It may influence if you like it more, and your food choice but that is different than additive behavior. This is scientific data showing the release of "dopamine" as impacted by foods with different ingredients. Dopamine is a common chemical monitored to study addition. Compared to sexual activity, food does not impact dopamine levels. Devin


Is there anything in the field of flavor chemistry that disappoints or angers you? What in your field most excites you? Thanks!

Waterlover85

The lack of funding for food research. We know very little of food and how we can better utilize food to support a healtier lifeslyle and not damage the earth in the process (substainabilty). In my opinion, we have focused primarly on drug discovery for treatment, rather than advancing the food supply for prevention measures. Devin


Is there anything in the field of flavor chemistry that disappoints or angers you? What in your field most excites you? Thanks!

Waterlover85

I am disappointed that the general public does not understand how flavors are made and how they differ from all other food additives in terms of questions of safety. I honestly see no reason to believe that natural flavorings are safer than artificial flavorings. The public pays much more for natural flavorings than artificial flavorings and the cost seems such a waste.

I am excited about new tools, new understandings that are being brought to us through this research. Flavor is such a complex human sensation that while we have made progress in understanding, we still have a good distance to go.

Gary


What got you guys started in the science of flavor? And do both of you have superior tastebuds?

lightly-sauteed-peas

I got interested in studying the science of flavor because it just sounded fun. Why do we eat - We eat for pleasure. Not a bad profession to spend your life doing things you enjoy.

I suppose if you want a second reason it is that I like chemistry and I wanted to apply it in a field that is relevant to people. I figured I would always have a job because people are not going to stop eating.

No I do not have super tastebuds. Fortunately one does not have to be a super taster to love food. I am very sensitive to bitter which makes for some foods a little less enjoyable - endive salads for example.

Gary


Is it possible to recreate extinct flavours? Like, say, Gros Michel bananas?

BB8ball

To create a flavor, one must have either a sample of the food to taste and potentially chemically analyze, you need a model, or to have someone who remembers what the product tastes like and can create it from memory. It would not be a simple task but the good news is if it's extinct, no one really knows what a taste like so you have a lot of flexibility. Gary


Hi! I'm actually just curious, but what motivated you guys to go into flavor chemistry? I'm a freshman at UT who's a part of the American chemical society that we have here, and I'm still looking towards a future. Was there something that drew you in? Thanks so much for doing this!

GentlemanTheFine

I like working on products that impact our everyday life and very meaningful ways. Food is a important part of human nature, we gather around foods for important events. Devin.


Airplane food tastes bad because of reduced oxygen saturation in the blood, particularly affecting sweet and salt flavours. Is there any good way to overcome the limits of flavour in such conditions?

Edit: tastes bad.

mrcchapman

I have never heard that reduced oxygen saturation in the blood has a significant effect upon sweet and salty flavorings. I would be interested in the source of that hypothesis. I've always attributed the lesser quality of airplane food to it being prepared in advance and then being warmed for serving. This precooking holding and serving decreases the quality of the food very quickly. I need to go on board with a chef that prepares a gourmet meal and check that out.

Gary

Devin – your thoughts?


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