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A Hypothesis for the Chemical Basis for Perception of Sour Taste

Johanningsmeiner, Suzanne D., McFeeters, Roger F., Drake, Maryanne
Journal of food science 2005 v.70 no.2 pp. R44
flavor, foods, hydrogen ions, organic acids and salts, pH, sensory evaluation, taste
Sour taste has been considered the simplest of the basic tastes because it is elicited only by hydrogen ions. However, there is not a sufficiently clear understanding of that relationship to allow sour taste intensity to be predicted and rationally modified in foods. On the basis of analysis of sensory data from our laboratory and reanalysis of previously published data, we propose a new hypothesis for the chemical basis for sour taste perception: The intensity of sour taste perception in acid solutions or acidified foods is linearly related to the molar concentration of all organic acid species with at least 1 protonated carboxyl group plus the molar concentration of free hydrogen ions. This hypothesis implies that, on a molar basis, different organic acids will be equally sour, provided at least 1 carboxyl group is protonated. The major effect of pH on sour taste will be to determine the degree of protonation of organic acids. If this hypothesis is confirmed, it will provide a new understanding of the chemical basis for this basic taste perception and have broad usefulness in the formulation of products in which sour taste is an important component of flavor.