Managing astringency, a dry, puckering mouthfeel, has been a historical challenge in the food industry, particularly for plant-based products made from soybeans, peas, or mycoproteins.
However, much of the food industry’s research to date has not accounted for the role of saliva as a variable in taste perception. To address this problem in a new way, Motif brought together experts from disciplines that do not typically collaborate to design new approaches to the problem.
“One of the food industry’s long-standing research blind spots is the impact of saliva lubrication on how we perceive taste and texture,” said Stefan Baier, Motif’s head of food science.
"We're bringing together oral biology and dental experts at King's College London with automotive and mechanical engineers at Imperial College London to study the physics of what happens in the mouth during chewing, uncovering new data-driven insights to inform better tasting plant-based food formulations."
Saliva influences the amount of friction during chewing, and is a crucial part of an enjoyable eating experience. Researching how saliva interacts with food in the human mouth will enable Motif to develop a new way to measure astringency in plant-based foods, unlocking new opportunities for plant-based products that meet or exceed consumer taste expectations.
The partnership is supported by a London Interdisciplinary Doctoral program (LIDo) grant – the largest BBSRC funded Doctoral Training Partnership in the UK – and an Imperial SME grant. The research is led by Baier in partnership with Prof. Thomas Reddyhoff and Prof. Conor Myant at Imperial College London, and Prof. Guy Carpenter at King’s College London. The four-year Ph.D. project at King’s will continue through 2025, and the two-year postdoctoral project at Imperial will continue through 2023.
“So much about the impact of saliva on taste is still unknown, largely because it’s a challenging substance to study in an experimental setting,” said Guy Carpenter, Professor of Oral Biology at King’s College London.
“By partnering with Motif and collaborating across different disciplines with the mechanical engineers at Imperial, we’ll be able to make significant progress in the fundamental science behind what makes eating enjoyable, improving the performance of plant-based foods.”
“Motif’s unique partnership approach to basic scientific research has allowed us to apply lessons learned from our work on the physics of oil in engines to the food science world, uncovering commonalities between fields that have not worked together historically,” said Thomas Reddyhoff, senior lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Imperial College London.
“The collaboration has also strengthened our team’s relationship with King’s College London, paving the way for future cross-discipline research. We’re excited to continue working with Motif to bridge the gap between sensory perception of taste and quantifiable measurement.”
The partnership is part of Motif’s network of scientific collaborations on plant-based food. It follows a licensing agreement with the University of Guelph and Coasun, Inc. to improve the texture of plant-based cheese and meat alternatives, as well as ongoing research partnerships with the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Massachusetts Amherst and the University of Queensland.
In June, Motif announced a $226m Series B funding round to bring transformative plant-based food technologies to market.