Research update: can capsaicin improve food liking?

Dr Steph Hunter updates us at the halfway point in her project

Dr Stephanie Hunter was the recipient of the first AbScent research grant in 2021. Her project, based at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, looks at the way people with altered taste and smell can improve their enjoyment of food. 

We know from the AbScent community that many people with altered or zero smell and taste worry they are not taking in a balanced diet, and that may lead to nutritional deficiencies. For many, losing the pleasure of food and eating is one of the hardest things to deal with.

At the halfway point in her project, Steph shared an exclusive update with the AbScent community.

AbScent: Thanks for taking the time to share the progress to date on your project. Please remind us what your project is about.

Steph: The project is looking at how smell loss can affect nutrition. When people have altered smell and taste, food is less flavourful and enjoyable; they don’t enjoy it as much. Many people turn to flavour compensation strategies, such as adding extra salt, in an attempt to improve the experience of eating. We’ve also observed that adding spice or hot sauce provides a little bit of flavour that makes eating better. However, some changes in eating, such as consuming too much salt, can have negative effects on people’s health.

My project has three goals: 

Goal 1: how much salt is being consumed by people with no taste?

Goal 2: can we evidence an increase in liking for meals with spice/hot sauce?

Goal 3: it has been observed that adding capsaicin can make things seem saltier, without adding salt. Does this work for people with altered smell and taste? 

AbScent: how are people living with no or altered smell and taste involved in this project?

Steph: We wouldn’t be able to do anything without people generously giving their time, and we’re hugely grateful to the AbScent community for supporting this project. We are working with people who have complete smell loss (anosmia) or reduced or altered smell and taste (hyposmia). 

Participants are invited to attend Monell for four different test sessions. We invite them to try different soups and foods, and record how they perceive saltiness and spiciness in the dishes. We also ask them to complete surveys to understand how their diet has changed, and what they currently eat. And finally, we ask for a 24 hour urine sample to record exactly how much salt someone is actually consuming. 

AbScent: When can you expect to see the first results?

Steph: We’re still working with participants to gather data, and that will probably continue throughout September. Once all the data is in, we can start analysing it and begin to organise it into results we can share, hopefully around October/November.

AbScent: Your study could open up new ways for people to enjoy eating and a better quality of life with altered smell and taste. We’re looking forward to seeing those results. 

You can find out more about Steph’s project in our webinar hosted in December 2021 ‘How you can improve your diet when living with smell loss’.

June 15, 2022

Posted in Research.