New industrial partnership aims to make plant-based food taste better

King’s College London

King’s College London oral biologists will be working with Motif FoodWorks and engineers from Imperial College London to improve the taste and nutritional value of plant-based food.

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Vegetables

The partnership’s mission is to better understand the impact of saliva on how we perceive taste and texture during chewing. Sensory attributes like astringency, a dry, puckering mouthfeel associated with foods like coffee, tea and wine, have been a challenge for the production of plant-based foods. Like motor oil in an engine, saliva influences the amount of friction present during chewing, and it is a crucial part of an enjoyable eating experience.

Oral biologists from King’s College London and Mechanical engineers from Imperial College London will be researching how saliva interacts with food in the human mouth, in a scientific collaboration that brings together very different disciplines for a fresh approach. The partnership between the two universities and Motif FoodWorks, a food technology company that is working to make plant-based foods better tasting and more nutritious, will help develop a new way of measuring astringency in plant-based foods.

Professor Guy Carpenter, Professor of Oral Biology at King’s College London, said: “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. By partnering with Motif and collaborating across different disciplines with the mechanical engineers at Imperial College, we’ll be able to make significant progress in the fundamental science behind what makes eating enjoyable, improving the performance of plant-based foods.”

Dr Thomas Reddyhoff, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Imperial College London, said: “Motif’s unique partnership approach to basic scientific research has allowed us to apply lessons learned from our work on of physics of oil in engines to the food science world, uncovering commonalities between fields that have not worked together historically. The collaboration has also strengthened our team’s relationship with King’s College London, paving the way for future cross-discipline research.”

Stefan Baier, Motif’s Head of Food Science, said: “We’re bringing together oral biology and dental experts at King’s with automotive and mechanical engineers at Imperial 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.”

The partnership is supported by a BBSRC-funded London Interdisciplinary Doctoral program (LIDo) grant and an Imperial SME grant. The two-year postdoctoral project at Imperial will continue through 2023, while the four-year Ph.D. project at King’s College London will continue through 2025.

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