Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes
This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.
Kim Mulvihill reportingWe all have those moments, some of us more than others, where we crave something sweet or something salty.
New research on why we crave certain things may lead to new ways to control our appetite.
A million years ago, when not fending off dinosaurs, our ancestors craved sweet food for energy and salty food to make their hearts and muscles work. Harold McGee, an expert on the science of cooking, says, "Our bodies are designed to take great pleasure in those things ... that pleasure is the way our bodies get us to eat those things and make sure that we keep our bodies in good shape."
Fast forward a million years and those cravings are just the same; however, there's too little hunting and way too much gathering. McGee says, "Our bodies are telling us to be sure to get enough sugar, be sure to get enough salt. And in fact, what we're doing is getting too much of these things."
That puts us at risk of obesity, heart disease and an early death. Kelly Brownell, an obesity expert, says, "It's the first time in our nation's history where health experts are beginning to ask whether our children will lead shorter lives than their parents do."
Several major food companies are listening. Carl Johnson, with Campbell's Soup, says, "Campbell's long-term goal is to reduce sodium or salt by 70 percent."
But how do you satisfy the cravings? A group of scientists believes they may have found a way, by tricking your taste buds. How? By using special chemical compounds. These compounds, when added to food, tingle certain taste buds in your mouth. Once activated, they send messages to your brain, telling it the food "tastes salty" or it "tastes sweet," but without adding extra sugar or salt. Chef Michael Kalanty, master taster, says, "So we still enjoy salt, and we still enjoy sugar, but we don't need as much to get pleasure from them as we eat them."
McGee says taste technology may enhance the flavors of food, even help those who have trouble tasting, such as the elderly.
Several biotech companies, including one in California, are currently working on the taste technology; however, some consumer groups want rigorous testing before any new compounds are added to food.
Even so, those who taste for a living say tingling the taste buds is never enough. Kalanty says, "You taste with your eyes and with your nose so much more than you do with your actual palate."
Now that's something to chew on.