Italian flowers may give mushroom aroma for food

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Essential oils from the flowering aerial parts of a plant from the mint family are rich sources of a compound that has a mushroom aroma, according to new research from Italy.

Distilling the aerial parts of Melittis melissophyllum​ subsp. melissophyllum​ (Lamiaceae), a member of the mint family, yielded “extremely high amoun[s]t of the mushroom-like aroma component 1-octen-3-ol (43.6-54.2 per cent)”,​ according to findings published online ahead of print in the journal Food Chemistry​.

“The high amount of 1-octen-3-ol measured in our investigation makes the essential oil hydrodistilled from this plant an important source of this molecule, and may suggest that ​Melittis melissophyllum subsp. ​melissophyllum could be an important natural source of mushroom-like food and beverages flavoring agent,”​ wrote the researchers, led by Sauro Vittori from the University of Camerino in Italy.

The compound 1-octen-3-ol is widely used by the food industry as a flavoring agent. It is included in both the food additive database of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and in the FAO and WHO Codex Alimentarius.

Data amassed some years ago for the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) put the total annual volume of production of the 39 aliphatic secondary alcohols and ketones, including 1-octen-3-ol, at approximately 3900 kg in Europe (International Organization of the Flavor Industry, 1995) and 1100 kg in the USA (Lucas et al., 1999).

"Approximately 73 percent and 47 percent of the total annual production volume in Europe and the USA, respectively, is accounted for by 6-methyl-5-hepten-2-one and 1-octen-3-ol,"​ reported JECFA at the time.

Study details

The Camerino-based researchers, in collaboration with scientists from Charles University in Prague, cut up the dried aerial parts of the plant and distilled them using water for four hours. Hexane was used to trap the volatile compounds, before solvent removal used anhydrous sodium sulfate.

The hydro-distilled oils reportedly had a typical mushroom-like smell and a yellow color. Analysis of the volatiles identified 48 compounds, with the the mushroom-like aromatic compound 1-octen-3-ol making up the majority at up to 54 percent.

“To our knowledge, these 1-octen-3-ol percentages are the highest detected in essential oils up to now,”​ wrote the researchers.

Further analysis showed that the compound was only present in low levels in the plant part, and that the majority is formed during the process of hydro-distillation.

The global market for flavors is worth an estimated $7bn, according to agro-giant Cargill.

Source: Food Chemistry​Published online ahead of print, 29 July 2008, doi: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2008.07.066“Melittis melissophyllum L. subsp. melissophyllum (Lamiaceae) from central Italy: a new source of a mushroom-like flavor”​Authors: F. Maggi, T. Bílek, D. Lucarini, F. Papa, G. Sagratini, S. Vittori

Related topics: R&D, Flavors and colors

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