TUM – Technical University of Munich Menu
Which flavors and aromas are found in Parmesan cheese? Scientists at TUM have now identified them. (Photo: TUM/ A. Battenberg)
Which flavors and aromas are found in Parmesan cheese? Scientists at TUM have now identified them. (Photo: TUM/ A. Battenberg)
  • Research news

31 active flavors identified in Parmesan cheeseComplex cheese

What would Italian pasta be like without Parmesan? No other cheese compares when it comes to flavoring dishes. But why? This is precisely the question that prompted a study by chemists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM). They found 31 active flavors that create a chemosensory signature when combined. This could potentially help producers test and improve the quality of their cheese during manufacturing in the future.

Centuries-old recipes give the world-renowned hard cheese from the Emilia-Romagna region its unique character. Parmesan, or Parmigiano in Italian, is traditionally made from raw milk. It needs up to three years to mature before developing the typical taste it is famous for: savory and salty, slightly spicy, but at the same time sour with a bitter-sweet component.

What gives the cheese its overall sensory quality?

Which flavors and aromas are responsible for this? How do they influence our senses? These questions are not only interesting for food lovers, but also for producers who want to test and improve the quality of their products. Scientific investigation methods could help here.

Cheese has long been the subject of research. Studies have shown that various molecules determine the taste. Their composition and concentration are typical for the various types of cheese. For example, γ-L-Glutamyl peptides, which are enzymatically synthesized from amino acids during the cheese maturing process, are primarily responsible for the taste of Gouda. But which substances give Parmesan its unique taste? “Up until now, there were no systematic molecular investigations,” explains Professor Thomas Hofmann, Full Professor at the Chair for Food Chemistry and Molecular Sensory Science TUM.

31 different aromas in Parmesan

Together with Dr. Hedda Hillmann, Hofmann performed a thorough chemical analysis on Parmesan cheese. The researchers broke down the cheese into its components, separated the fats and proteins and concentrated the aromas in an aqueous solution. These were then studied with a high-performance mass spectrometer. 31 different aromas were identified by the TUM team in this way – including minerals, fatty acids, organic acids, biogenic amines and amino acids. Peptides, including γ-L-Glutamyl peptides, were also detected in high concentrations.

Humans and machines in perfect unison

Were all the flavors identified? To test the results, the researchers employed their own trained test persons, who sampled both the Parmesan and the aqueous cheese solution and rated the gustatory impression – for example the categories sweet, salty, sour and bitter. Result: the taste of the aqueous extract was more or less on a par with the taste of the real cheese – which proved that the mass spectroscopic analysis actually reflects the typical distribution of aromas.“The studies give us a molecular, chemosensory fingerprint for Parmesan,” summarizes Professor Hofmann. “This can be useful for objectively measuring and visualizing changes in the taste profile during cheese production. This gives producers the opportunity to improve the taste by changing the process parameters.”



Hedda Hillmann and Thomas Hofmann: Quantitation of Key Tastants and Re-engineering the Taste of Parmesan Cheese, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemisty, 2016, 64, 1794-1805. 2016, 64, 1794-1805. DOI: 10.1021/acs.jafc.6b00112


Prof. Thomas Hofmann
Chair of Food Chemistry and Molecular Sensory Science
Lise-Meitner-Straße 34
85354 Freising
Mail: thomas.hofmann(at)tum.de
Phone: +49 (89) 289 - 22201 or Phone 2: +49 (8161) 71-2902

Corporate Communications Center

Technical University of Munich

Article at tum.de

Blühende Rapspflanze, Versuchsgut Roggenstein der TU München. (Bild: A. Heddergott / TUM)

Bitter rapeseed

Rapeseed doesn't just contain oil but high-quality protein, too. However, protein extracts from rapeseed have an intense, bitter off-taste. A team led by food chemist Thomas Hofmann has now identified the substance that is...

Prof. Thomas Hofmann wird im Oktober 2019 neuer Präsident der TUM. (Bild: A. Heddergott / TUM)

Thomas Hofmann elected as TUM’s new President

The Board of Trustees of the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has elected Prof. Thomas Hofmann (50) as the new President of TUM. The experienced university manager has held the position of Senior Vice President Research...

Der im Ingwer enthaltene Scharfstoff 6-Gingerol stimuliert ein Speichelenzym, das übelriechende Substanzen abbaut. (Bild: iStockphoto/ villagemoon)

Pungent tasting substance in ginger reduces bad breath

The pungent compound 6-gingerol, a constituent of ginger, stimulates an enzyme contained in saliva ¬– an enzyme which breaks down foul-smelling substances.  It thus ensures fresh breath and a better aftertaste. Citric acid,...

Im Speichel sind verschiedene, antimikrobiell wirkende Moleküle enthalten. (Bild: iStock/Cunaplus M. Faba)

More than just a good flavor

Not only do citric acid and spicy 6-gingerol from ginger add special flavors to food and beverages; both substances also stimulate the molecular defenses in human saliva. That is the result of a human clinical trial by a...

Je trockener die Sommer, desto häufiger kommt es zu Waldbränden wie auf dem Foto zu sehen im Sommer 2017 in Süditalien in der Region Basilikata. Sind Weinberge in der Nähe wie vorne links zu erkennen, nimmt der Rebstock die rauchigen Aromen auf, was sich jedoch erst am fertigen Produkt feststellen lässt. (Foto: iStock/ Angelafoto)

How forest fires spoil wine

If wine is cultivated in an area where forest fires occur more often, such as in Australia or Southern Italy, aromas that make the alcoholic drink unpalatable can develop in the finished product. Until now, it wasn’t known...

Wissenschaftler der TUM konnten erstmals klären, wie bei der Herstellung von Schokolade die Zutaten auf molekularer Ebene miteinander interagieren. (Foto: Joanna Wnuk/ Fotolia)

Molecular models come to the aid of chocolatiers

For many it’s simply irresistible and their favorite candy: chocolate.  Its success is presumably due not only to its taste but also to its smooth texture, which is achieved by a process known as conching and the addition...

Mit zunehmender Reife reichern sich immer mehr Aromastoffe in der Haut der Weintrauben an.

On the scent of a wine’s bouquet

The majority of wines are produced from around 20 different types of grape, all of which have their own typical aroma. This is due to the terpenes, a diverse category of chemical substances including cholesterol and...

Collage aus verschiedenen Lebensmitteln und chemischen Strukturen.

Decoding characteristic food odors

How are we able to recognize foodstuffs like strawberries, coffee, barbecued meat or freshly boiled potatoes by smell alone? Foodstuffs contain more than 10,000 different volatile substances. But only around 230 of these...

Mit Geschmackstests wiesen die Wissenschaftler nach, dass es beim Menschen Enzyme gibt, die aus Nahrung freie Fettsäuren herauslösen. (Foto: J. Böck / TUM)

Can we taste fat?

Scientists have confirmed the existence of three lipolytic enzymes (lipases) in the salivary glands of the human tongue, bringing an end to many years of dispute. According to the study, these enzymes are located right...

Was macht das Aroma reifer Erdbeeren so unverwechselbar? Wissenschaftler haben herausgefunden, wie der Geruchsstoff auf molekularer Ebene gebildet wird.

Why strawberries smell like strawberries

You know that summer is here when juicy red strawberries start to appear on the shelves. In Germany, this seasonal fruit has never been more popular: on average 3.5 kilos per head were consumed in 2012 – a full kilogram...