Heme as a Taste Molecule


Purpose of Review

The sense of taste has evolved to enable the identification of appropriate substances to consume, to acquire nutrients, and to avoid consuming potential toxins. Five basic taste classes have been recognized, although there may be others, including metallic taste, which have not been well defined. The purpose of this review was to survey available data from diverse sources to determine how much was known about the molecular basis for metallic taste.

Recent Findings

Metallic taste has been studied in the context of dysgeusia, primarily using non-heme iron as an inducer of metallic taste sensation. However, recent efforts by industry to develop plant-based meat substitutes have suggested that iron in the form of heme may be the main molecule underlying the taste of meat. Little work has been done on heme as a taste molecule.


Data support a primary role for heme in metallic taste that may have evolved as part of a means to consume and preserve elemental iron for physiological needs.

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Correspondence to Glenn S. Gerhard.

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Gerhard, G.S. Heme as a Taste Molecule. Curr Nutr Rep (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13668-020-00320-6

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  • Heme
  • Iron
  • Taste
  • Dysgeusia