Several big food and beverage companies are looking at a new ingredient in the battle for health-conscious consumers: a chemical that tricks the taste buds into sensing sugar or salt even when it is not there.
Kraft Foods, Nestlé, Coca-Cola and Campbell Soup are all working with a biotechnology company called Senomyx, which has developed several chemicals, most of which do not have any flavor of their own but instead work by activating or blocking receptors in the mouth that are responsible for taste.

They can enhance or replicate the taste of sugar, salt and monosodium glutamate, or MSG, in foods.
By adding one of Senomyx’s flavorings to their products, manufacturers can, for instance, reduce the sugar in a cookie or salt in a can of soup by one-third to one-half while retaining the same sweetness or saltiness.
Now, for instance, a 10 3/4-ounce can of Campbell’s Home-style chicken soup, which the company says contains two and a half servings, has more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium. That would probably be cut to a little over 1,500 milligrams when the chemical is added. (The government recommends consumption of no more than 2,400 milligrams of sodium a day.)
Unlike artificial sweeteners, Senomyx’s chemical compounds will not be listed separately on ingredient labels. Instead, they will be lumped into a broad category – “artificial flavors” – already found on most packaged food labels.
“We’re helping companies clean up their labels,” said Senomyx’s chief executive, Kent Snyder.
Senomyx, based in San Diego, uses many of the same research techniques that biotechnology companies apply in devising new drugs. Executives say that a taste receptor or family of receptors on the tongue or in the mouth are responsible for recognizing a taste. Using the human genome sequence, the company says, it has identified hundreds of those taste receptors. Its chemical compounds activate the receptors in a way that accentuates the taste of sugar or salt. It is still experimenting to determine the most potent compounds, its chief scientist, Mark Zoller, said.
While food safety experts applaud efforts to reduce salt, MSG and sugar, they expressed concerns about the new chemicals, saying that more testing needed to be done before these were sold in food.
But Senomyx maintains that its new products are safe because they will be used in tiny quantities.
Kraft, Nestlé, Coca-Cola and Campbell Soup have contracted with Senomyx for exclusive rights to use the ingredients in certain types of food and beverages, although the companies declined to identify those categories.
This is an article extract from the New York Times published 6 Apr 2005. For the full article goto

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