Genetic differences in odorant receptors could account for as much as 40% variation in taste intensity of foods, according to new research.
The study – published in PLoS ONE – suggests that genetics could help to determine how consumers perceive the tastes of cooked meats in food products, revealing that consumers with different versions of a certain odor receptor rated the taste of samples of pork meat differently.
Led by Kathrine Lunde from the Norwegian Meat Research Centre, the authors said that participants' responses to samples of pork containing varying levels of the odour compound androstenone depended on the version of the odorant receptor gene they had – with one version resulting in more favorable responses than the other.
“Since androstenone is naturally present in meat derived from male pigs, we asked whether OR7D4 genotype correlates with either the ability to detect androstenone or the evaluation of cooked pork tainted with varying levels of androstenone within the naturally-occurring range,” explained Lunde and her team.
The researchers said variations in the OR7D4 genotype explained 40% of the disparity in intensity ratings in Norwegian subjects used in this study. This number is similar to previously published data with subjects in New York City, they said.
Pork containing varying levels of androstenone was cooked and tested by sniffing and tasting, the team found that participants with two copies of a particular variant (RT) tended to rate the androstenone-containing meat as less favourable than subjects carrying a different variant (WM).
Androstenone is a steroid structurally related to testosterone, and is a known pheromone in boars. The compound, in combination with skatole, makes up the primary component of boar taint – “an unpleasant odour and flavour found in pork derived from male pigs.”
The authors noted that although castration reduces the amount of the off-flavour compound in pork, recent proposals by the European Union to ban castration – due to animal welfare concerns –has reinvigorated the study of consumer perception of pork containing androstenone.
The new research investigated how people with different versions of the OR7D4 gene, which is sensitive to androstenone, rated the taste of different pork samples – finding that the OR7D4 genotype correlated with androstenone sensitivity as well as the subject’s perception of cooked meat samples containing androstenone.
“Our study suggests that functional variation in an odour receptor can alter food preferences.”
Lunde said the data was consistent with the idea that the OR7D4 genotype “predicts the sensory perception of meat containing androstenone and that genetic variation in an odorant receptor can alter food preferences.”
“Our study raises the possibility that a person with proper genotype (i.e. OR7D4 RT/RT) and the right threshold can be selected for screening in the slaughterhouse for eliminating meat with high concentration of androstenone. Heating the samples could greatly enhance the detectability of androstenone.”