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Bitter flavors boost hunger hormone

Experiments in mice may explain aperitif's allure

A nip of Pernod or Ouzo before dinner to stimulate the appetite may be a sound strategy.

When mouse gut cells are stimulated with bitter compounds they trigger secretion of a hunger hormone, researchers report online January 18 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Whetting the appetite with a before-dinner drink, or aperitif — from the Latin aprire, to open — has long been associated with improved digestion. The often bitter drinks typically contain a secret mixture of herbs and spices, sometimes to deliberately quell the taste of another common aperitif ingredient — quinine.

Quinine is one of a number of compounds that stimulate the bitter taste receptors — cells that, in the mouth, are seen as a first line of defense against ingesting toxins. So scientists thought that eating such compounds would inhibit appetite, not rev it up.

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