Tuesday, January 30, 2007

An open question on artichokes

My SO and I just had boiled artichokes with garlic mayonnaise for dinner. The odd thing about artichokes (other than wondering who in the world first thought to try eating them) is that after you've started eating them, other foods taste, well, different. Most foods seem to obtain a sweet aftertaste; milk tastes normal for the first few seconds, but then becomes oddly sweet, and then just becomes odd (my SO swears it tastes burned). Apple juice also tastes sweeter, but of course since apple juice is supposed to be sweet, it's actually an improvement1.

But here's my question: what's the biology underpinning this sensory change? The phenomenon of artichokes making food taste sweet is well documented, but there's precious little information on what actually causes the change. I've been able to find this old Science article (Bartoshuk et al., 1972), which refers to chlorogenic acid and cynarin causing a sweet taste by "temporarily modifying the tongue, rather than by adding a substance sweet in itself," but I can't access the full article, and searches for the two compounds just turn up lots of altie websites and ads for herbal junk. Temussi (2006) reviews the history of sweet proteins, which sounds potentially promising, but unfortunately I also don't have access to that paper. So, right now I'm left with the unsatisfactory answer that it's due to some magical property of chlorogenic acid and cynarin.



Bartoshuk, LM., C Lee, and R Scarpellino. 1972. Sweet Taste of Water Induced by Artichoke (Cynara scolymus). Science 178: 988 - 990.

Temussi, PA. 2006. Natural sweet macromolecules: how sweet proteins work. Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences 63: 1876-1888. (pubmed)

1 Note to self: always drink apple juice with artichokes.

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