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A teaspoon of beef helps the medicine go down

May 17, 2018 — 

Say what you will about the health benefits and drawbacks of beef, but new research by University of Manitoba professors has found that a particular beef protein may help people swallow bitter medicine.

The study by U of M’s Prashen Chelikani (oral biology) and Rotimi E. Aluko (human nutritional sciences) was published in the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. The authors report that beef protein, when broken down into peptides, can block bitter taste receptors on the tongue. Such peptides could someday be used to make other foods and even medicines taste better.

According to Drs Aluko and Chelikani, “This is the first study to suggest food protein-derived peptides can block bitter taste receptors.”

Most people try to avoid bitter flavours because they find them to be unpleasant. But some healthful foods are bitter, as are some medications. So, the food and pharmaceutical industries have been looking at ways to reduce or eliminate bitter sensations, which are detected in humans by 25 receptors known as T2Rs. Only a few inhibitors of T2R activity have been identified so far.

In recent years, bioactive peptides created from breaking down food proteins, through a process known as enzymatic hydrolysis, have gained attention for reducing bitterness and inflammation. Because beef proteins have been shown to generate desirable flavour-promoting peptides, Chelikani, Aluko and colleagues wanted to see if these peptides could block bitter tastes.

The researchers hydrolyzed beef protein with six different enzymes: alcalase, chymotrypsin, trypsin, pepsin, flavourzyme and thermoase. Peptides produced from trypsin and pepsin digestion were the most effective in reducing the intensity of the bitterness of quinine in a test with an electronic tongue. These peptides were also the longest, which suggests that peptide size might play an important role. The group notes this could impact not only the food industry but the pharmaceutical industry as well.

The authors acknowledge funding from the Alberta Agriculture and Forestry and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

Research at the University of Manitoba is partially supported by funding from the Government of Canada Research Support Fund.

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