Can Spice Scents Make Food Taste Saltier and Cut Salt Use?

Mary Jones
5th February, 2024

Can Spice Scents Make Food Taste Saltier and Cut Salt Use?

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

If I were to tell you that simply smelling certain spices could trick your taste buds into thinking your food is saltier than it actually is, would that peak your curiosity? Well, it certainly caught the attention of researchers, who were noodling over a pretty important question: Can we use the power of smell to help reduce the amount of salt in our food, and by extension, benefit our heart health? Salt, you see, is a bit of a double-edged sword. It's essential to our body in the right amounts, but too much of it can be a one-way ticket to Cardiovasculartown, and not in a good way. High blood pressure, heart disease – you name it, too much salt is likely shaking hands with it. Now, the clever bit comes from a term you might not be familiar with: multi-sensory integration. It's a fancy way of saying that our senses love to work together to create our experiences of the world – including how we experience the taste of food. So, some sharp minds embarked on a taste adventure, bringing with them three popular herbs and spices – turmeric, bay leaf, and parsley. Their aim was to see if these kitchen favorites could play a clever trick on our taste buds by boosting the salty flavor in food, without the need to throw in extra salt. They started out with a good old sensory test, involving actual human participants. Imagine a group of food critics, but for science. These testers got to enjoy mashed potatoes with varying levels of herbal intervention and reported their experience of saltiness. Alongside this, the researchers unleashed their inner bloodhounds to sniff out the aromatic compounds of each spice through something called 'olfactometric analysis'. It sounds high-tech, but it's essentially a sniff-test that's a bit more sophisticated than your nose. What they found was pretty interesting. Bay leaf and turmeric were the spice-world equivalent of a Vegas magic act – they made mashed potatoes taste like they had more salt than a sailor's vocabulary, almost head-to-head with the salty smell of dry-cured ham. Parsley, on the other hand, was more of a background performer; it didn't boost the salty taste quite as much. Diving deeper into the aroma of these spices, one particular scent molecule, eugenol, stood out. This little guy had a direct link to how salty the spices made the food seem. Turmeric came out with a bouquet of sweet aromas, while bay leaf flexed its aromatic muscles within the spicy category. As it turns out, just like in a good mystery novel, it's the interplay of characters that makes the story. The research suggests that different types of aromatic compounds might be working together to affect how salty we perceive food to be. So, for example, that sweet aroma from turmeric could be counterbalancing the spicy kick from bay leaf to affect the illusion of saltiness. To wrap it up, these culinary investigators have given us a great takeaway (no pun intended). They've shown that turmeric, bay leaf, and parsley—all stars in their own right—might just have the power to help us cut down on that notorious silent killer, salt, simply by tapping into our sense of smell. The result? Potentially healthier food that doesn't sacrifice flavor. It's a fascinating reminder of how our senses are a gateway to not only richer eating experiences but also to smarter, healthier food choices. So next time you're cooking up a storm, consider reaching for these aromatic spices. They could be the secret ingredient to keeping your food flavorful and your heart just that bit happier.



Main Study

1) Could the aroma of spices produce a cross-modal enhancement of food saltiness and contribute to reducing salt intake?

Published 3rd February, 2024

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