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The Science of Flavor

Posted: January 10, 2007

A recent SFC meeting at The Monell Chemical Senses Center reveals that flavor is more than just one of life’s pleasures

The Monell Chemical Senses Center, established in 1968, is the world’s first and foremost scientific center for multidisciplinary research on the chemical senses of taste, smell and chemical irritation. Monell has more than 60 Ph.D. scientists working to increase fundamental knowledge of the chemical senses and improve public health and quality of life issues. The latest Society of Flavor Chemists meeting was the first held at the Center, allowing flavorists the chance to learn from the researchers and tour the facilities. While many flavorists’ day-to-day job focuses on delivering flavors per clients’ requests, this SFC excursion allowed everyone to learn more about the research behind how flavor is processed in the brain, how flavor preferences are formed, and even how flavor can affect health.

In the Beginning

The development of flavor preferences occurs very early in life; in fact, some preferences are formed while still in the womb. Catherine Forestell’s (Dalhousie University) research focuses on how experience affects the development of odor and flavor preferences in children. Forestell explained that a fetus’ taste buds are functional by the seventh week of gestation, allowing the fetus to perceive the odor of the food eaten by the mother, which is carried in the amniotic fluid. Once born, a child’s exposure to different tastes has significant impact on the acceptance of new foods later in life. For example, newborns that are pre-exposed to a range of flavors through breast milk (e.g., anise, garlic, carrot, mint, cheese, etc.) will be more likely to accept those flavors later in life. Forestell’s research shows that there is an increased acceptance of food over repeated exposure of that food. In addition, a child who is exposed to a variety of new food will be more likely to try new foods later in life.

Understanding Flavor