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Decoding characteristic food odors
Date:6/26/2014

How are we able to recognize foodstuffs like strawberries, coffee, barbecued meat or boiled potatoes by smell alone? Foodstuffs contain more than 10,000 different volatile substances. But only around 230 of these determine the odor of food. Narrowing it down further, between just three and 40 of these key odors are responsible for encoding the typical smell of an individual foodstuff. These compounds are then decoded by around 400 olfactory receptors in the nose.

Complementing the five basic tastes of sweet, bitter, salty, sour and umami, a large variety of odors also contribute to the overall sensory impression of a foodstuff. In recent decades, approximately 10,000 volatile food compounds have been identified. Scientists from Technische Universitt Mnchen (TUM) and the German Research Center for Food Chemistry (DFA) have carried out a meta-analysis on the odorant patterns of 227 food samples.

How cognac gets its complex notes

They were surprised to find that the almost unlimited variety of food smells is based on 230 key odorants. In addition, each foodstuff has its own odor code comprised of a core group of between just 3 and 40 of the 230 key odorants in specific concentrations. These small groups of odorous substances are what give all kinds of foodstuffs from pineapple to wine to roast meat their unmistakable aromas.

"So for example, the smell of cultured butter is encoded by a combination of just 3 key molecules, but fresh strawberries have 12," explains Prof. Peter Schieberle from the TUM Chair of Food Chemistry. Cognac is the most complex of all: the smell of this popular brandy is attributable to 36 key molecules.

Brain blends individual notes to create a new odor identity

The chemical odor codes are translated into olfactory stimulus patterns when food is consumed. For this, the key odorous substances have to interact with one or more of the 400 olfactory receptors in the nos
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Contact: Thomas Hofmann
thomas.hofmann@tum.de
49-816-171-2902
Technische Universitaet Muenchen
Source:Eurekalert  

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