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Monell Chemical Senses Center announced that a scientific paradox linking artificial sweeteners with a sensory experience, in which plain water takes on a sweet taste, has guided researchers to an increased understanding of how humans detect sweet taste. As reported in Nature, scientists from Monell describe how certain artificial sweeteners, including sodium saccharin and acesulfame-K, paradoxically inhibit sweet taste at high concentrations. The researchers further reported that taste perception switches back to sweetness when these high concentrations are rinsed from the mouth with water, resulting in the aftertaste experience known as sweet “water taste.”
“These findings will open doors for tweaking the sweet taste receptor and finding new sweeteners and inhibitors that can be used both by food industry and in medicine,” said Paul A. S. Breslin, Ph.D., a Monell geneticist and senior author of the paper, in a prepared statement. Lead author Veronica Galindo-Cuspinera, Ph.D., noted while working on a separate study that saccharin, commonly used at low concentrations as an artificial sweetener, loses its initially sweet taste when tasted at high concentrations. She subsequently observed that strong sweetness returned when the high concentrations of saccharin were rinsed from the mouth with water.
According to the report, working with Breslin, she next discovered that high concentrations of saccharin inhibit the sweetness of any other sweetener tasted at the same time. Testing a variety of compounds, the researchers reportedly found that any sweetener that elicits sweet “water taste” also acts as a sweet taste inhibitor. Sweet inhibitors are used by the food industry to counteract the undesirable high sweetness that results from replacing fats with sweet carbohydrates in reduced-fat products such as snack foods and salad dressings.
“The extremely close parallels between the behavior of the human sweet taste receptor and the perceptual phenomenon are remarkable,” commented Breslin, in the release. “This two-site model should enable a more complete understanding of human sweet taste perception, leading directly to studies of how to stimulate, manipulate, enhance, inhibit and create synergy of sweet taste.”