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Better Tasting Ginseng in Energy Drinks


Do you love the idea of getting ginseng in an energy drink but are not so fond of the taste? Scientists at the University of Illinois have found a way to reduce the bitterness of ginseng, which will make it more acceptable to consumers and an easier sell for producers of products that contain it.

Ginseng is said to improve memory, libido, and immunity

Ginseng has been long prized in traditional Chinese medicine as a tonic and mental stimulant, as well as for enhancing libido, boosting immunity, and treating diabetes. Both American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) are used for herbal remedies and in beverage products. Ginsenocides, the active components of ginseng, are found in both the roots and leaves, with the highest concentrations in the latter.

At the University of Illinois, researchers evaluated five different ways to reduce ginseng’s bitterness, which previous studies had shown is more responsible for the bitter perception in energy drinks than caffeine. According to Soo-Yeun Lee, associate professor of food science and human nutrition at the University, “consumers like to see ginseng on a product’s ingredient list” because of its reported health benefits, “but the very compounds that make ginseng good for you also make it taste bitter.”

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To uncover any potential ways to reduce ginseng’s bitterness, the study’s authors tested 13 non-smokers without allergies who also passed basic taste tests and then participated in 12 training sessions. The volunteers then taste-tested 84 samples and rated each of them on a 16-point scale.

The researchers tried five ways to reduce ginseng’s bitterness, which included adding each of the following factors: citrus, a bitterness blocking agent that neutralizes the taste buds, large amounts of taurine (an amino acid), an enzyme that breaks down bitter components, and cyclodextrins, which mask bitter taste. The most promising addition was the cyclodextrins, which reduced bitterness by more than 50 percent.

Although cyclodextrins have been utilized to reduce ginseng’s bitterness in the past, they have not been used at the level of ginseng included in energy drinks, according to Shelly J. Schmidt, professor of food chemistry at the University. Schmidt also noted that “gamma-cyclodextrins were more successful than beta-cyclodextrins and were most cost-effective.”

The discovery by the University of Illinois scientists will allow energy drink makers to reduce the bitterness of ginseng in their products. In addition, Lee pointed out that “this new method for masking bitterness in ginseng gives food scientists an opportunity to improve the health of consumers.”

Tamamoto LC et al. Food Science 2010 Aug 1; 75(6): S271-78