Astringency of Foods May Not be Directly Related to Salivary Lubricity



Abstract:  Astringency, a tactile sensation felt in the mouth after exposure to various foods, is poorly understood. Our objective was to investigate the mechanism of astringency by determining if it was related to a loss of saliva's ability to lubricate mouth surfaces. We used 2 complementary approaches: (1) instrumentally determining if astringents decrease salivary lubricity and (2) determining if human subjects could perceive these changes. Instrumentally measured friction of saliva–tannin mixtures was greater than that of saliva–water mixtures, but these differences were not detectable by human subjects. Adding alum or acid to saliva did not increase friction measured either instrumentally or by human subjects rubbing the mixture between their thumb and fingers. Thus a loss of salivary lubricity is likely not a central mechanism of astringency.

Practical Applications:  If astringency's mechanism can be elucidated, food producers will gain knowledge that will enable them to manufacture, alter, or treat the food in a way to retain its healthful attributes while minimizing the astringency. This knowledge will also benefit sensory scientists interested in the intensity perceptions of the sensations and will allow them to devise improved methods for the assessment of the attribute.