Blame calcium if you find food tasteless

Last Updated: Jan 09, 2010, 00:00 AM IST

Washington: A new study has shown that calcium plays a vital role in tickling our taste buds.

The team from Japanese researchers have shown that calcium channels on the tongue are the targets of compounds that can enhance taste.

Kokumi taste foods contain various compounds that have no taste themselves, but can enhance the basic sweet, salty and umami taste sensation they co-exist with.

Lead researcher Yuzuru Eto examined whether calcium channels –which sense and regulate the levels of calcium in the body— might be the mechanism involved.

They found that calcium channels are closely related to the receptors that sense sweet and umami (savory) tastes and that glutathione (a common kokumi taste element) is known to interact with calcium channels.

During the study, researchers created several small molecules that resembled glutathione and analysed how well these compounds activated calcium channels in cell samples.

They diluted the same test substances in flavoured water (salt water, sugar water, etc.) and asked volunteers (all trained in discriminating tastes) to rate how strong the flavours were.

The findings revealed that the molecules induced the largest activity in calcium receptors and also elicited the strongest flavour enhancement in the taste tests.

The research tested several other known calcium channel activators, including calcium, and found all exhibited some degree of flavour enhancement, while a synthetic calcium channel blocker could suppress flavours.

The study appears in JBC.