Taste-Modifying Compounds

Taste-modifying compounds, or taste modifiers, are chemical substances that alter one or more of the Basic Tastes. Many studies have discovered numerous types of taste-modifying proteins found in nature that are categorized as having sweet, antisweet, and sweetness-inducing abilities. It is beneficial to understand the mechanisms of these substances and their potential uses in foods to enhance flavor or serve as a potential treatment of diabetes, obesity, and other metabolic disorders.1

Antisweet substances

Antisweet substances inhibit the sweet taste in food products with little to no effect on salty, sour, or bitter tastes2. Some of these substances include include gymnemic acid, ziziphin, hodulcin, and gumarin. The leaves of Gymnema sylvestre contain gymnemic acid which suppresses all sweet tastes in humans3. In India, it is used as a natural remedy for diabetes mellitus. Gumarin is also found in Gymnema sylvestre although it does not have an effect on humans, but rather suppressing the sweetness in rats2. Ziziphin, which is highly specific for sweetness, is found in the leaves of the northern China Ziziphus jujube which also inhibits the sweetness in numerous different sweeteners2. Found in the leaves of the Chinese and Japanese Hovenia dulcis, Hodulcin is also known to suppress sweetness2.

Sweet proteins

When present in foods, sweet proteins enhance the intensity of sweet taste present in a food, without the addition of sugars. The lack of sugar leads to the possible development of low calorie sweeteners which can contain one or more of these proteins. Some of the known sweet proteins include thaumatin, monellin, mabinlin, and pentadin1. Thaumatin is 3,000 times sweeter than sucrose and is currently commercially available as a sweetener and flavor enhancer. Monellin is 2,800 times sweeter than sucrose. Mabinlin is found in the tennis-ball sized fruit of the Chinese Capparis masaikai and is approximately 350 -400 times sweeter than sucrose. Pentadin, found in Pentadiplandra brazzeana, is approximately 500 times sweeter than sucrose. When compared to thaumatin and monellin, it has both a quicker onset and decline of sweetness.

Sweetness-inducing proteins

Sweetness-inducing proteins alter the taste of one or more of the Basic Tastes, especially sour into a sweet taste. The mechanism involved with the sweet receptors on the tongue is due to the conformation of the protein. The two major proteins include miraculin and curculin, which are used to control the palability of foods or in new food product development1. Miraculin, which is tasteless by itself, is the active compound found in the berries of the western African miracle fruit which converts sour into sweet taste. For example, when miraculin is consumed and lemons are eaten, they become excessively sweet with a taste comparable to lemonade3. Curculin is a naturally sweet compound by itself found in the fruit of the western Malaysian Curculigo latifolia2. It also transforms a sour taste into a sweet taste. Both miraculin and curculin have potential uses to remove the sourness and enhance the sweetness of food products.


1 Gibbs BF, Alli, I, Mulligan C. 1996. Sweet and taste-modifying proteins: a review. Nutrition Research 16: 1619-1630.
2 Kurihara Y, Nirasaw S. 1994. Sweet, antisweet and sweetness-inducing substances. Trends in Food Science and Technology 5: 37-41.
3 Bartoshuk LM, Dateo GP, Vandenbelt DJ, Buttrick RL, Long L. 1969. Effects of Gymnema sylvestre and Synsepalum Dulcificum on taste in man. Olfaction and Taste III. University Press, NY.