Researchers propose ‘Venus flytrap’ working of umami receptors

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Umami taste, Glutamic acid, Amino acid, Umami

Progress has been made in pinpointing the mechanism of that most mysterious of taste sensations, umami, with potential implications for understanding taste preferences and undercovering the workings of other proteins.

Together with sweet, bitter, salty and sour, umami makes up the five taste sensations detectable by humans. It is described as a “hearty, savoury” ​taste, and has a part to play in the profile of a number of foods, including meat, fish, vegetables and dairy products.

Finding ways to enhancing foods’ an umani flavour is a target for food developers – not least since it can help reduce the use of salt to enhance flavours, in line with healthier eating strategies.

Researchers from Senomyx and Biopredict say that the umami taste of L-glutamate, an amino acid, can be “drastically enhanced”​ by 5’ribonucleotides.

“The synergy is a hallmark of this taste quality,”​ they wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS).

The ability to identify umami is said to be down to two taste receptors, T1R1 and T1R3. The study set out to elucidate the synergy between L-glutamate and 5’ribonucleotides, using chimeric TR1 receptors, site-directed mutagenesis, and molecular modeling.

Lead researcher Xiaodong Li and team propose that the T1R1 receptor is shaped like a Venus flytrap – the iconic carnivorous plant that traps flying insects for nourishment. The L-glutamate binds inside the receptor near to the ‘hinge’, they say, and the ‘flytrap’ closes around it.

The 5’ ribonucleotides bind on an adjacent side of the flytrap, near the opening, “to further stabilize the closed conformation” ​– that is, to allow the glutamate to stay in the ‘mouth’ of the receptor for longer.

The researchers say that the mechanism “may apply to other class C-G protein coupled receptors” – thus contributing to knowledge in other areas as well.

This may allow researchers to elucidate taste preferences and uncover the workings of other similar proteins, according to the researchers.


PNAS, December 30 2008, vol 105, no 52

Article #08-10174

"Molecular mechanism for the umami taste synergism"

Authors: Feng Zhang, Boris Klebansky, Richard M Fine, Hong Xu, Alexey Pronin, Haitian Liu, Catherine Tachdjian, and Xiaodong Li

Related topics: R&D, Flavors and colors

Related news

Show more

Related products

show more

Clean-label flavor enhancement and sodium reduction

Clean-label flavor enhancement and sodium reduction

Salt Of The Earth LTD | 01-Jul-2020 | Application Note

Mediterranean Umami is a mixture of plant extracts rich in umami flavor compounds and sea-salt. It is an all-natural and clean-label solution for flavor...

REAL Eggs Integral Role in Baking White Paper

REAL Eggs Integral Role in Baking White Paper

American Egg Board | 06-Oct-2019 | Technical / White Paper

By enhancing ingredient statements, REAL Eggs contribute to gold standard quality. In a world where consumer expectations evolve at sometimes dizzying...

Enhancing Bakery’s Appeal

Enhancing Bakery’s Appeal

Bunge Oils | 23-Sep-2019 | Technical / White Paper

Many of the attributes consumers love about bakery are determined by the type of fat bakers use. Some initial PHO substitutes did not fully meet sensory...

Related suppliers

Follow us


View more