Can technology boost your taste buds?

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clarification: Benjamin Currie / Gizmodo

People say cannabis makes things taste better. I never got that – all weed did for me was drain the realm of joy or purpose and recast all my past interactions as testimony to my utter fraud. Anyway, mention the weed thing here to prevent any comments about weed. I am aware that cannabis is supposed to do this and some clowns are referring to cannabis as a kind of “tech”. What matters to us this week jeez asks, is an ordinary, non-metaphorical technique and whether it can enhance taste buds – reviving faded buds due to injury or disease or introducing healthy people into previously unimaginable realms of taste/sensation. Below, our experts tell you.


Director of the Center for Nasal Physiology and Therapy, The Ohio State University

Slapping your tongue may (literally) improve your taste.

The surface of the tongue is covered with a dense structure called papillae. Before we can perceive taste, taste stimuli must travel through convection and diffusion through a forest of papillae – as well as saliva, taste pores, etc. – in order to reach the taste receptors located within the taste buds on the papillae. By moving your tongue or quickly wiping a drink/food into your mouth, you may enhance the movement of fluids and make the stimuli easier to reach the taste receptors.

Professor of Biological Sciences, University of Southern California, whose lab studies how we feel about the world around us

I’m not sure why you would want to improve your taste buds; Most people do just fine (unless they have coronavirus, in which case we’re talking about getting them back, and we’re not close to being able to do that).

A separate question is whether technology will be used to find flavor enhancers – and the answer is absolutely yes. Molecular receptors for all five basic tastes (the last one, acid, have now been identified by my group). They can be used, and are used to hunt compounds that enhance or reduce their activity, leading, for example, to identify sweeteners or enhancers. Bitter blockers can be added to foods or pharmaceuticals. We can also in principle use these receptors to flavor tested foods or drugs.

Assistant Professor, Sensory and Consumer Sciences, University of California, Davis, His research focuses on methods for measuring sensory perception and preferences and their effective use in food design.

In theory, this should be possible. Taste receptors are membrane proteins found on the surface (epithelium) of our taste buds. Its structure is now known, as are the genes coding for these proteins. And so we can imagine that in the future, you can get mRNA injections to stimulate the production of these proteins by our taste cell.

The real question is: Why would you want to do that? Being a super expert isn’t necessarily fun! There is indeed a huge disparity between people in terms of sensitivity to taste. Super Tasters exist naturally without the aid of biotechnology. They tend to be hypersensitive to sweetness and bitterness. I’m one of them, and sometimes I wish I was a regular connoisseur!

Another way to approach this question is: Is it possible to improve the taste of our food? The answer to that is yes, by combining tastings and flavor enhancers that create synergies with taste compounds. This is something we do when we cook (by adding broth or mushrooms to enhance the flavor of the dish), and the food industry does too (and the most famous flavor enhancer is monosodium glutamate, MSG, which also has an umami taste). Using these tricks is also a way to reduce the salt content in some foods or to make vegetarian meat alternatives more flavorful.

Professor of Nutrition, Purdue University

I think we are at the beginning of a new era in taste research, where we realize that the meaning is broader than is generally believed. This means we can detect more types of chemicals than those that convey sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami sensations. There is evidence that humans can detect fats, starch, calcium, carbon dioxide, and other chemicals. If true, there is ample room in the future for new opportunities to exploit these capabilities. Moreover, the discovery may be just the beginning. We have our sensory systems to collect information that allows us to take physiological and behavioral responses to enhance our survival. The implications of these new sensory abilities are unknown but potentially significant.

Professor of Food Science and Human Nutrition, University of Florida, and an international leader in taste research

No, you can’t change your tastes technologically. But you can, probably, eat healthy foods and make them taste better, which is what our lab is working on right now.

Getting people happy with healthy foods is tough. The truth is, we’re hard at heart to love sweet, salty, and greasy. Our brains are connected in this way, because when we’re kids, that’s about survival — getting in on sugars, salts, and fats is one of the most important things you can do to survive.

Historically, these types of foods were not so easy to obtain. Obviously this has changed. It’s also a fact that once you have your own children, evolution doesn’t care at all what happens to you – you’re such a heavyweight. So evolution hasn’t bothered to create mechanisms to turn off those preferences.

Can we produce a safe sweet taste? Well, maybe not. Everyone used to think saccharin was the silver lining here, but recent research tells us it’s just the opposite — saccharin can make you he won Weight.

However, we are making some progress in this direction with our current research, and this work is focused on volatiles. A volatile compound that evaporates into the air. The smells are volatile. When you take a bite of food and chew it, these volatile substances are released and go into your nose through what is called the space behind the nose. The brain knows that these volatiles came from your mouth; It draws attention and treats it in a different area than that used in aromatherapy. This is the flavor.

The flavor part of the brain overlaps with the area where taste is processed. Strawberries, for example, contain volatiles that get into the flavor/taste part of the brain and make the sweet message more intense. In the 1970s, when I came to Florida, I started working with folks in gardening—incredibly skilled plant biologists—and we discovered a hundred of these sweet-intensive volatiles in different fruits. And as it turns out, when you add these volatile substances to foods that contain sugar or artificial sweeteners, they make those foods taste sweeter. This works on people with nerve damage to their sense of taste; It works on people whose sense of taste has diminished due to the coronavirus. These volatiles send messages that reach the brain and enhance the sweet taste without disturbing the taste nerves.

We are still far from producing products, but if you come to the lab, you can taste the sugar solution with the magical volatiles in it and it will taste twice as much as sugar alone.

Do you have a burning question for Giz Asks? Email us at tipbox@gizmodo.com.

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