Aroma booster: Lots of spit, lots of taste: what saliva has to do with how something tastes to us

Spit has a damn bad image.

Aroma booster: Lots of spit, lots of taste: what saliva has to do with how something tastes to us

Spit has a damn bad image. It doesn't even take a wet pronunciation to be disgusted by other people's saliva. The licked jam spoon, which is put back into the glass, is sufficient. Or the spit projectile that the person in front of you has just fired at full speed onto the asphalt. As soon as saliva leaves the mouth, it, wet and slimy as it is, causes many people's toenails to curl up - even if it's their own. Connoisseurs in particular should reconsider their view of the body's own liquid. Because without spit, life would be bland in the truest sense of the word. It has an immense impact on how we taste.

At first glance, saliva is an unspectacular matter. It consists of 99 percent water, plus a few salts, minerals, proteins, enzymes, defenses and, of course, mucilage. The saliva protects the teeth from acid and ensures that germs are swallowed. It is also known to stimulate digestion. The enzymes in it break down starch and turn chewed food into mush. But not only that. Scientists have found that the influence of saliva on our eating behavior plays an even greater role.

When eating, food and saliva mix, an interaction occurs. How this turns out depends on our individual saliva composition and also the amount of saliva that the individual produces. In other words, if five people at the table eat from the same pot, the taste experience will be different five times.

And: saliva changes continuously. Not only is the amount of salivation usually dependent on the time of day, for example in the mornings it is usually rather slow, it can also be manipulated. The saying "That makes your mouth water" is no coincidence. For the glands to start producing saliva, just the thought of a certain food or smell can be enough. In addition to eating habits, stimuli such as smells also have an effect on the composition of the saliva, as the biochemist Elsa Lamy found out in experiments. According to this, different smells result in different compositions.

What does that have to do with how we taste? A lot! A team of researchers from Spain found out that people with more saliva tended to perceive wine aromas more intensively than people with less saliva production. A possible explanation would be that more swallowing leads to more flavor molecules rising up into the nasal cavity, i.e. more flavors reaching the receptors. However, this was a very small experiment with only ten participants.

Anwesha Sarkar is also researching the interaction between saliva and food. The food researcher at the University of Leeds works with a mechanical tongue and artificial saliva. Her focus is on how food moves in the mouth and what that might say about sensory perception. For example, a possible combination of milk fat and saliva ensures that a fuller mouthfeel is created, so that we can taste whether a yoghurt is low in fat or high in fat.

Quelle: Knowable Magazine, Study 1, Study 2, Study 3