Next time you find food tasteless, you can blame calcium as it plays a role in taste-making, a new study shows.

Japanese researchers have shown for the first time that calcium channels on the tongue are the targets of taste-enhancing compounds.

Besides molecules that directly trigger specific taste buds (salty, sweet and others), there are other substances with no flavour of their own. But they can enhance that of those paired with them (known as kokumi taste in Japanese cuisine).

Exploiting this discovery could open the way to creation of healthy foods that contain minimal sugar or salt but still elicit strong taste. At the moment, though, the mode of action for these substances is poorly understood.

However, Yuzuru Eto and colleagues from Ajinomoto Incorporated, Japan, examined whether calcium channels - which sense and regulate the levels of calcium in the body - might be involved in the mechanism.

They noted that calcium channels are closely related to the receptors that sense sweet and umami (savoury) tastes and that glutathione (a common kokumi taste element) is known to interact with calcium channels.

The results of their experiments provided a strong correlation: the molecules that induced the largest activity in calcium receptors also elicited the strongest flavour enhancement in taste tests.

The study appeared in the Friday edition of JBC.

Keywords: calciumfoodtaste budsflavour

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