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the flavor of salt would enable food companies to make snacks with less sodium, too much of which can sometimes lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease, and stroke.
More recently, Senomyx announced that one of its major corporate partners, Switzerland’s Nestle, is evaluating the commercial potential a flavor ingredient identified by Senomyx for use in the “coffee and coffee whitener” fields. Snyder says the company’s agreement with Nestle precluded him from providing details of the project. He said only that the ingredient under study could be either a flavor enhancer or a bitter blocker.
In addition to its collaboration with Nestle, Senomyx has established similar agreements with six other major food companies: Coca-Cola, the world’s largest beverage company; Campbell’s, the soup maker; Cadbury, the English candy maker; the Solae Company, a soy products company based in St. Louis, MO; Firmenich, a flavor and perfume company based in Switzerland; and the Ajinomoto Group, a Japanese maker of monosodium glutamate and other food additives.
Human taste buds are wired to react to five primary flavors: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and savory (or umami—the meaty flavor associated with monosodium glutamate). While there at least 25 receptors have been identified to detect bitter tastes, Snyder said that researchers have identified only one receptor for each of three key flavors the company has targeted, sweet, salty, and savory. In each case, however, Senomyx has identified nearby binding sites that act to intensify a particular flavor.
So, for example, Snyder said there is only one sweet receptor that binds with sucrose, or ordinary table sugar. But there are additional sites nearby that bind with other molecules to intensify the sweet flavor. “If you took the sucrose out completely, the enhancer would have no taste of its own,” Snyder said. The company’s program to identify salt enhancers is scientifically very challenging, Snyder added, because the company has found at least 160 compounds that enhance the taste of sodium chloride, or table salt.
The company has been working on multiple compounds in each category of savory, sweet, and salty flavor enhancers. For example, Senomyx has been working with Firmenich to develop S2383, a compound that acts specifically to enhance the taste of sucralose, an artificial sweetener used in Splenda. “Sucralose is sometimes associated with a lingering sweet aftertaste,” Snyder said. But S2383 enhances the taste of sucralose so intensely that it enables food companies to reduce the sucralose content in foods by as much as 75 percent. That not only minimizes the persistent aftertaste of sucralose, but also enables food companies to save money by using less sucralose. Firmenich plan to begin worldwide commercialization of the compound by the end of this year, and “would hope to look for our first royalty revenue in the first quarter of 2010,” Snyder said.
Another sweet flavor enhancer under development, S6973, makes something with 6 percent sucrose content taste almost twice as sweet, based on a blinded panel of taste testers, Snyder said. “This could be very interesting from a health perspective because if you can reduce the amount of calories by half and [therefore] improve the nutritional content, it has the potential to be very widely used,” Snyder said. Sucrose is in almost all foods, including yogurt, cereal, beverages, and cookies, with a global market of $63 billion in sales annually, Snyder said. Getting just a piece of that would be very sweet, indeed.