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SENSOMICS – from sensory active molecules to culinary authenticity

Although aided by visual inspection, the final recognition and quality evaluation of food relies on chemoreceptive events in our nose and oral space. It is well-accepted today that not a single flavor impact molecule, but a combinatorial code of multiple odor- and taste-active key compounds, each in its specific concentration, is reflecting the chemosensory phenotype and is triggering the typical flavor profile of food products. Thus, comparing flavor with sound perception, it is not a single instrument, but it is the instrumental ensemble of an orchestra and the well balanced interplay between the single instruments making music truly a unique experience.

The research at the Hofmann’s lab encompasses a unique methodology, coined SENSOMICS, by combining state-of-the-art natural product analytics, human psychophysical techniques, and bioinformatics tools with unequaled expertise which allows for a sustained scientific competitive advantage. After targeted quantitation of candidate basic taste molecules by means of stable isotope dilution analysis (SIDA), taste re-engineering experiments help to uncover the presence of previously unknown taste compounds and taste modulators, which are then identified by means of an activity-guided fractionation approach and cutting-edge MS and NMR spectroscopy, followed by organic synthesis. Quantitation and spiking experiments elucidate the sensory impact of these chemosensates, which are then utilized as molecular probes to understand the mechanisms of their biological action by combining functional data from psychophysical experiments and taste receptor de-orphanization studies.

Workflow of the SENSOMICS analysis

Moreover, the population of chemosensory active molecules (“sensometabolome”) is used as a molecular target for visualizing the changes in sensometabolite profiles throughout manufacturing processes and/or storage of food. Modern bioinformatics tools help to deconvolute the complex interactions between the individual chemosensates and to unravel how authentic food flavor images are synthesized by the brain. SENSOMICS is considered the cutting-edge technology to molecularize flavor entities of nature, thus setting the ground for a new quality of knowledge-based flavor optimization on its way to create culinary authenticity.

“Tasting by mass spectrometry”: SENSOMICS heatmapping of the beer manufacturing process

Selected publications:

Hellfritsch, C.; Brockhoff, A.; Staehler , F.; Meyerhof, W.; Hofmann, T. (2012) Human psychometric and taste receptor responses to steviol glycosides. J. Agric. Food Chem., 60, 6782-6793.

Schindler, A.; Dunkel, A.; Stähler. F.; Backes, M.; Meyerhof, W.; Hofmann, T (2011) Discovery of salt taste enhancing arginyl dipeptides in protein digests and fermented fish sauces by means of a sensomics approach. J. Agric Food Chem., 59, 12578-12588.

Schieberle P., Hofmann T. (2011) Mapping the combinatorial code of food flavors by means of the molecular sensory science concept. In: Food Flavors - Chemical, Sensory and Technological Properties (H. Jelen, ed.); CRC Press, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011, pp. 411-437.

Intelmann, D.; Haseleu, G.; Dunkel, A.; Lagemann, A.; Stephan, A.; Hofmann, T. (2011) Comprehensive sensomics analysis of hop-derived bitter compounds during storage of beer. J. Agric. Food Chem., 59, 1939-1953.

Intelmann, D.; Batram, C.; Kuhn, Ch.; Haseleu, G.; Meyerhof, M.; Hofmann, T. (2009) Three TAS2R Bitter Taste Receptors Mediate the Psychophysical Responses to Bitter Compounds of Hops (Humulus lupulus L.) and Beer. Chem. Percept. 2, 118-132.