Saliva is essential for tasting and digesting foods. However, a recent study indicated that saliva might also have a more subtle purpose. Namely, saliva is influencing your taste preferences. The results of this research, carried out by Cordelia A. Running, Ph.D., and Ann-Marie Torregrossa, Ph.D., will be officially presented today at the 256th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).
According to Cordelia Running, the majority of healthy foods are bitter, such as dark chocolate and broccoli, so people are usually developing an aversion to the bitter taste and avoid eating such foods. The purpose of the study, therefore, is to find a way to influence people’s taste to give up the aversion to bitter foods and to stick to a healthy diet.
“By changing your diet, you might be able to change your flavor experience of foods that at one point tasted nasty to you,” said Cordelia Running.
Saliva is influencing your taste preferences
While it is almost entirely composed of water, saliva also contains thousands of proteins which are produced by the salivary glands. These proteins bind to the flavor chemicals in foods but also to the taste receptors in the mouth, and some of these proteins have been found to cause the unpleasant sensations of dryness or roughness when we eat specific foods.
“If we can change the expression of these proteins, maybe we can make the ‘bad’ flavors like bitterness and astringency weaker,” explained Cordelia Running.
In some previous studies conducted on lab rats, Cordelia Running and Ann-Marie Torregrossa, the co-author of the study, discovered that a diet based on bitter foods modified the expression of the proteins. After initially showing aversion to the bitter taste, the rats got used to the sour foods as the proteins in the saliva adapted to the diet.
“We think the body adapts to reduce the negative sensation of these bitter compounds,” explained Cordelia Running, who now plans to further explore the compounds in foods that might alter the salivary proteins.