Altering Taste Perception

Originally Published: April 20, 2023
Last Updated: April 20, 2023
Altering Taste Perception - Alex Woo 2023CLC

It’s commonly understood that humans perceive five basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. However, sensory scientists now believe there are many more fundamental tastes in the perception of food. Additionally, taste perception is far more complex in other ways. Scientists are learning how to alter taste perception as researchers continue to delve into the mechanisms of taste bud receptors. Examples include how the chemical structure of various compounds impacts taste perception and how certain compounds can be used as taste blockers to improve consumer perception of a product.

One study found how a low salt concentration can deliver a sweet taste. In an article titled “How Salt Can Taste Sweet: The Myriad Mechanisms of Taste Perception,” published in eLife, Feb 28, 2023 (, the author—Prof. Atsuko Yamashita mentioned that the sodium ion (Na+) in table salt (NaCl) primarily drives salt taste perception. But the anion (chloride ion Cl-) also contributes to taste perception via “unique molecular mechanisms.”

“Scientific studies have proposed the presence of multiple salt detection pathways in the taste buds, but their exact mechanism is not fully understood,” said Yamashita. To better understand the complexity of taste perception, note that different concentrations of salt yield different tastes. Humans perceive a salt taste at 100mM of salt, but concentrations >500mM can yield bitter and/or sour tastes, while concentrations <10mM are perceived as sweet, Yamashita added.

In one study, scientists analyzed the structure of a taste receptor from the Japanese rice fish (medaka), which is similar to the human sweet taste receptor. They found that the fish taste receptor could bind to a Cl- resulting in a structural change that activated the sweet taste receptors (T1r).

Bitterness-blocking technology is another area of study in food technology and neuroscience. Many compounds, such as high-potency sweeteners, create a bitter taste sensation—often considered objectionable.

Alex Woo, Ph.D., CEO and Founder of W2O Food Innovation, will be presenting the topic “Clean Label Bitterness Blockers: Neuroscience, Ingredient Technologies, Applications,” at Global Food Forums’ 2023 Clean Label Conference in Itasca, Ill., May 23rd (

Woo will discuss mechanisms of action that include TAS2R active bitter site blocking, negative allosteric modulation (binding a substance to a taste receptor to change its response to stimuli) and calcium blocking in bitter taste cells. He will also describe several plant-based bitterness blockers, all labeled as natural flavor, including naringenin, sugar cane distillate, mushroom mycelia extract and 1,3- propanediol.

In today’s world of modern technology, food product developers can benefit from knowing how to alter taste perception in a formulation. Bitterness blockers can remove unwanted bitter tastes, turning an objectionable product into one that’s favorable.