Parents could find it easier to convince their children to eat vegetables, and coaches could find it easier to rehydrate their athletes if a new discovery from the LSU AgCenter Department of Food Science makes it way into the marketplace.
"We call it a bitter blocker," said AgCenter researcher and food science department head John Finley, who developed the material with graduate student Darryl Holliday.
The substance can mask bitter and astringent flavors in foods and allow the addition of ingredients such as glycerine, ethanol and potassium salts without hindering the taste.
The discovery came about on a hunch, Finley said. "Earlier work with aspartame blocked bitterness in soy products, so we thought we could get similar results with mogroside V – an intense sweetener derived from plant sources."
A mogroside is any of several highly sweet chemical compounds found in plants, such as the Asian monk fruit or luo han guo.
Because of his interest in artificial sweeteners, Finley began working with Holliday to see if mogroside could block the "bite" of glycerine, which is used in semi-moist foods, and salt, which causes people to develop health problems if it’s used to excess. It did.
"Potassium is a frequent substitute for salt, but it has a natural bitterness," Finley said. The bitter blocker blocks the bitter potassium flavor in beverages such as sports rehydration drinks.
To test the effectiveness of the bitter blocker, the researchers added it to soy milk and sprayed it on vegetables like collard greens. It masked the beany taste of the soy product and the bitterness in the vegetable.
"It has the potential application as a spray to help mask bitter or astringent tastes in some vegetables, like greens and broccoli," Finley said.
It also works with Hominex, a mixture of amino acids that’s used as a protein source for children with cystinurea, a condition that won’t allow them to metabolize certain sulfur-containing amino acids.
But the big opportunity for the bitter blocker, Finley said, is with beverages. "We can make high-potassium drinks that taste sweeter and less salty with the addition of this substance."