Very Very Tasty

“You either love it or you hate it”: things like Marmite, broccoli, and even the “tasty, tasty, very very tasty” corn flakes of the advertising jingle. Now we know why everyone enjoys different tastes. Scientific research published this week explains how that happens. It gives new clues to the biochemistry involved and considers what 200 people have said about the tastes and smells they like and dislike. And of course there are genetical considerations as well.

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The ionones are one of several groups of chemicals that give taste and smell, and occur in the oils of roses and violets. The molecules are made up of carbon and hydrogen atoms bonded together in a ketone structure.

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The ionones are derived from the breakdown of carotenoids. The many enzymes involved give many different perfumes

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Ionones and the other chemicals that give flavour are detected by the sensitive cells of our olfactory system. In humans, their synthesis is catalysed by enzymes from our unique sets of more than nine receptor genes. So there are millions of combinations for different kinds and quantities of ionones, each giving different tastes. It means that we all have our own unique “flavour world”.

The work is by Sara Jaeger, Jeremy McRae and others at the New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research, and is reported in this week’s Current Biology.

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