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Illinois study: Ginseng just got better -- not as bitter
Date:12/6/2010

URBANA University of Illinois scientists have learned to mask the bitterness of ginseng, a common ingredient of energy drinks.

"Consumers like to see ginseng on a product's ingredient list because studies show that it improves memory, enhances libido and sexual performance, boosts immunity, and alleviates diabetes. But the very compounds that make ginseng good for you also make it taste bitter," said Soo-Yeun Lee, a U of I associate professor of food science and human nutrition.

In an earlier study, Lee and U of I professor of food chemistry Shelly J. Schmidt found that ginseng contributes more to the bitter perception in energy drinks than caffeine, an indispensable component of these beverages and the very compound that sensory scientists use as their reference for bitter perception.

"Ginseng has over 30 bitter compounds, and scientists still don't know which compound or group of compounds is responsible for the bitter taste," Lee said.

While experimenting with five possible solutions to ginseng's bitterness problem, they discovered that cyclodextrinshydrophobic compounds made of glucose molecules that occur in a ring formwere able to capture the bitter flavor compounds and reduce bitterness by more than half.

Lauren Tamamoto, a graduate student who worked on the study, assembled a group of 13 non-smokers who also lacked allergies that would affect their bitter perception. Panelists had to be able to detect a chemical called 6-n-propyl-2-thiouracil (PROP) on a piece of filter paper (some people can, some people can't) and also pass basic taste tests for sweet, sour, bitter, and salty perceptions. They then participated in 12 training sessions and taste-tested 84 samples, rating each on a 16-point scale.

The researchers used the panelists to test these potentially effective bitterness-reducing treatments:

  • adding a related complementary flavor (in this case, citrus) as a sensory distractio
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Contact: Phyllis Picklesimer
p-pickle@illinois.edu
217-244-2827
University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences
Source:Eurekalert

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