Nutmeg is 30 times more potent than cooling menthol

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It is the spice that lends a festive flavour to many dishes at this time of year, from mulled wine to a range of puddings and sauces.

But nutmeg could also help to leave your mouth feeling fresher for longer in the mornings.

Scientists have discovered that a compound in this popular Christmas spice can produce the same cooling effect as menthol, the natural ingredient that gives mint its refreshing tingle.

Experts found the compound is 30 times more potent than menthol but also gentler – avoiding the sudden unpleasant freezing sensation some mint-flavoured products produce. 

It is the spice that lends a festive flavour to many dishes at this time of year, from mulled wine to a range of puddings and sauces. But nutmeg could also help to leave your mouth feeling fresher, for longer in the mornings

It is the spice that lends a festive flavour to many dishes at this time of year, from mulled wine to a range of puddings and sauces. But nutmeg could also help to leave your mouth feeling fresher, for longer in the mornings

It is the spice that lends a festive flavour to many dishes at this time of year, from mulled wine to a range of puddings and sauces. But nutmeg could also help to leave your mouth feeling fresher, for longer in the mornings

THE FINDINGS 

Rsearchers at the Kao Corporation screened hundreds of plants and spices in the hope of finding more.

They found an extract of dried nutmeg acted on the same cold-sensitive receptor as menthol and then set about identifying the compound that was responsible.

The compound, known as threo-Δ8′-7-ethoxy-4-hydroxy-3,3′,5′-trimethoxy-8-O-4′-neolignan, was 30 times as potent as menthol, but the researchers found that if they tinkered with the chemical structure slightly, they found they could make it up to 116 times as potent.

The scientists then tested the nutmeg compound on volunteers by giving it to them in a mouthwash to rinse with for 30 seconds.

They found it took five minutes to reach the initial level of cooling experienced after rinsing with menthol, meaning it builds more gradually and leads to a more pleasant experience.

The cooling effect also lasted for 30 minutes, three times longer than that of menthol.

The nutmeg compound, known as a neolignan, also produces a cooling effect that lasts three times longer than that of menthol.

The researchers believe the compound could be used to produce new types of longer-lasting toothpaste and mouthwashes.

They are now working on ways of incorporating it into other products like mints and chewing gums.

Tomohiro Shirai, a chemist at chemical company Kao Corporation in Tochigi, Japan, who led the work, said: ‘This compound has a long cooling effect probably because it is absorbed slowly.

‘This is valuable in many products.

‘High concentrations of menthol often create a burning sensation, unpleasant irritation, and a distinctive smell and taste while low concentrations do not evoke enough of a cooling sensation.

‘The high molecular weight of our compound resulted in a cooling effect with a long duration time.’

Menthol is widely used in toothpastes and mouthwashes because it acts on cold-sensitive receptors that then send signals to the brain.

There are few other natural products capable of producing this brisk, cooling effect and only a handful of synthetic compounds.

The researchers at the Kao Corporation, whose findings are published in the journal ASC Medicinal Chemical Letters, screened hundreds of plants and spices in the hope of finding more.

They found an extract of dried nutmeg acted on the same cold-sensitive receptor as menthol and then set about identifying the compound that was responsible.

The compound, known as threo-Δ8′-7-ethoxy-4-hydroxy-3,3′,5′-trimethoxy-8-O-4′-neolignan, was 30 times as potent as menthol, but the researchers found that if they tinkered with the chemical structure slightly, they found they could make it up to 116 times as potent. 

Scientists have discovered that a compound in this popular Christmas spice can produce the same cooling effect as menthol, the natural ingredient that gives mint its refreshing tingle. The nutmeg compound, also produces a cooling effect that lasts three times longer

Scientists have discovered that a compound in this popular Christmas spice can produce the same cooling effect as menthol, the natural ingredient that gives mint its refreshing tingle. The nutmeg compound, also produces a cooling effect that lasts three times longer

Scientists have discovered that a compound in this popular Christmas spice can produce the same cooling effect as menthol, the natural ingredient that gives mint its refreshing tingle. The nutmeg compound, also produces a cooling effect that lasts three times longer

The scientists then tested the nutmeg compound on volunteers by giving it to them in a mouthwash to rinse with for 30 seconds.

They found it took five minutes to reach the initial level of cooling experienced after rinsing with menthol, meaning it builds more gradually and leads to a more pleasant experience.

The cooling effect also lasted for 30 minutes, three times longer than that of menthol.

Mr Shirai said the nutmeg compound also works on a the cold-sensitive receptors in a different way to menthol, meaning they could even be used in combination in products.

But it will need to pass safety and taste tests before it will begin appearing in products.

Mr Shirai and his colleagues said it could find a wide range of uses from food and drink, cosmetics, toothpastes, mouthwashes and flavoured tobacco products.

‘Oral care products like mouthwashes are an obvious use,’ said Mr Shirai. 

‘Perhaps combining it with compounds that show short cooling effects might be even better.’

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