The taste tissue imaging system can help identify natural molecules and flavor ingredients that can enhance the sweet taste of reduced-calorie products, for example, or block bitter notes from others such as processed foods.
It works by allowing scientists to actually see and measure the cellular response of taste cells to taste stimulants and simultaneously observe the cellular responses and interactions of the five taste modalities – sweet, bitter, salty, sour and umami.
Cargill said the technology, which has taken several years to develop, is “superior” to the cell screening technology currently available in the flavor, food and beverage industries because it allows its scientists to observe the interactions of all five taste modalities at the same time.
Thomas Niederkorn, Americas beverage category director at Cargill Flavor Systems, told FoodNavigator-USA.com: “We are now measuring the response of the entire taste system, not just receptor binding.
“We are also for the first time able to look at interactions between taste modalities. Current technology only investigates these in isolation.
“So, as an example, in addition to more completely modeling the taste system, we can now investigate whether bitter components in the presence of sweet components affect sweetness perception.
“Investigation into all possible combinations is now possible.”
The technology is a biological assay (or analysis) which allows quantitative measurements of individual live cell responses to stimuli. The taste cell response image data is then captured and quantitatively measured for the five taste responses.
It will allow Cargill to effectively discover taste modifiers such as sweetness enhancers, bitterness blockers, savory enhancers and salt enhancers.
Niederkorn said: “Taste is the main driver in flavor innovation and is connected to the ability to create healthier products .
“This is an enabling technology which will lead to future flavor ingredient discoveries. As these ingredients are identified, flavor systems containing the new ingredients will be developed for customer specific applications.”
Cargill developed the technology in partnership with the Monell Chemical Senses Center, a Philadelphia-based non-profit independent scientific institute dedicated to research on taste and smell.
Chris Mallett, Cargill corporate vice president of research and development, said: “This technology allows us to predict taste sensation and so help our customers deliver better-tasting consumer products to the marketplace.”
Other companies investing in flavor technology include Senomyx which recently announced five new patents covering the use of the human bitter and savory taste receptors to help it develop new flavor ingredients.
The San Diego-based firm said in January that the patents expanded on its earlier patents for using sweet and savory receptors to screen for compounds.
It claimed this would help to discover new ingredients using methods that are more efficient than traditional flavor discovery approaches.
A report published this year by market researchers Business Insights said that the global flavor and fragrance market was worth $18bn.
It added that the majority of leading players spend about 10 per cent of their annual turnover on R&D costs. For example, US color, flavor and fragrance manufacturer Sensient, spent $26m on R&D in 2006, according to Business Insights.