• Saliva

    Perception

    Ingestion

    Tongues

    Department of Nutrition Science

    Dr. Cordelia Running

  • Food should taste good.

    Even when it’s healthy for you.

    Even when you aren’t healthy.

    For our latest work, click the SCIENCE! tab

    That’s what we believe at the SPIT Lab. Our research focuses on uses the sensations, secretions, and psychology of what happens in the mouth to try and make good food a reality for everyone—not just the young, the healthy, the wealthy, and the culinary-inclined.

     

    We’re what you call psychophysicists. And sensory scientists. And hungry people.

  • Our tools of science

    This is how we do it...

    Saliva

    Biochemical media of the mouth

    All that taste and flavor you get from your food? Spit messes with it. So, we're messing with spit to see if we can exploit it to make maintaining a healthy diet easier--and tastier!

    Perception

    Feelings. Something more than feelings.

    While the chemistry of the mouth and nose are the front end of the flavor experience, all those signals are integrated in the brain. What you think and believe can then alter that flavor, sometimes more strongly than you'd expect!

    Ingestion

    Eat it. Just eat it.

    After you eat , other signals from your gut, brain, and rest of the body can influence your expectations for that food in the future. Plus, the way you ate the food (fast or slow, chewed or not) could change the digestion process.

    Tongues

    Gross, but awesome.

    Do you have a long tongue? A hairy tongue? A tongue with lots of grooves? We want to know how the basic shape of your tongues surface might change the way you experience food.

  • Meet our scientists!

    Here's our SPITting images

    Dr. Cordelia Running

    Boss lady. Fount of nerdy food facts. Saliva enthusiast.

    Dr. Cordelia Running runs the SPIT Lab. She loves food, and she loves chemistry. But more than both, she loves using chemistry to help other people love their food.

     

    She came up with our cheesy SPIT lab acronym because when you try to recruit people to participate in the "Running lab" they get really confused when you feed them things...

     

    Check her out on Google Scholar.

    Lissa Davis

    PhD student

    Lissa joined the SPIT lab in fall 2018 as a doctoral student in Nutrition Science. She's working on a project for the National Institutes of Health about how eating certain flavors, like bitter, spicy, or fatty flavors, changes in saliva proteins--in ways that may change those bitter, spicy, or fatty flavors!

    Madison Wierenga

    Undergraduate+Technician (i.e., super-minion)

    Maddy joined the SPIT lab in 2018. She is working on her undergraduate degree in Public Health, and her research with us focuses on how people experience chemesthesis, the chemical sense of irritancy, especially from carbonated beverages. She is also assisting in a project relating sourness liking to personality traits and risk factors for some not-so-healthy behaviors. This year, she'll be exploring some possible sensory reasons related to why people do, or don't, use dietary supplements and vitamins.

    Dr. Ryan Calvert

    Post-doctoral Scholar

    Dr. Calvert earned his doctoral degree in Nutrition Science from Purdue in 2019, then joined the SPIT Lab to explore bioinformatics related to foods, eating, and health. In other words, he built a sparkly (literally) computer we are using to process terabytes of data we collected from salivary proteomic and dietary analyses.

     

    We geek out.

    Li-Chu (Jasmine) Huang

    Graduate Student

    Jasmine is working on her graduate degree as part of the SPIT lab. She comes from Taiwan, where she completed her degree in Biological Science and Technology. She'll be studying how spit (of course!) and fatty foods (mmm.....) may interact, and how that relates to dietary habits.

    Vinícius Valicente

    Graduate Student

    Vinnie comes to us from Brazil, where he earned Bachelor's degree in Food Engineering. He has experience working with extrusion technologies, natural dyes, bioactive compounds, as well as measuring rheology and processing milk and dairy products. He enjoys reading, watching movies, exercising, and graphic design. In the SPIT lab, he'll be working on projects to reduce sugar in beverages, particularly beverages popular among adolescents.

    Sarah Pitts

    Graduate Student

    Sarah is working with both the SPIT lab and Dr. Lisa Mauer's lab, from Purdue's Nutrition Science Department. She finished her undergraduate degree in Food Science in 2019, and her graduate work will involve studying sweetness and texture in reduced sugar solid or semisolid (i.e., pudding) foods.

  • All of the undergrads

    Keona Lee

    Bridget Owens

    Andrea Richardson

    Madeline Harper

  • SCIENCE!

    There’s always some science happening at the SPIT Lab.

    Folks on dialysis taste things differently

    Seriously, kidney disease is a struggle.

    Kidneys help clean our your blood. Things like sodium, potassium, bicarbonate, and urea are all things that need to be filtered out of your blood--but are all also things that cause taste. Normally, you'd have a pretty constant level of these molecules in your blood. But folks on dialysis (man-made kidney machine) only get these molecules cleaned out every couple of days. So, they go from high levels to low levels pretty rapidly. This messes with taste, because you can taste your own blood--either by blood filtering out into saliva, which you are drinking all day long (you're welcome for that thought!), or because your taste cells touch blood vessels (so they can kinda taste what's inside). We looked into some of these taste molecules in blood, and found that folks on dialysis actually taste some of them more strongly. This might help explain why these folks report a lot of trouble with their sense of taste! Stay tuned for the full report.

    The math behind the science

    It's not an opinion, it's MATH!

    As sensory scientists, we sped a lot of time explaining to people that ratings for flavor and sensation are not "just opinions." Rather, they are quantifiable experiences derived from neurochemistry in the brain and biochemistry in the mouth. Trouble is, turning these sensory ratings from a crazy mess of "opinions" into a reliable and intelligible source of objective information requires statistics, which basically means math. No really--A LOT of math. Dr. Jonathan Kershaw's SPIT lab work on astringency and bitterness is great example of some of our statistical approaches. You can read it here!

    Spit makes flavor!

    Or flavor makes spit?

    We’re looking into how bitter or astringent flavors interact with your saliva. There’s proteins in your spit that likely cause those astringent (dry, rough, constricting) feelings when you eat certain types of chocolate, tea, red wine, persimmons, and many other foods. We want to know what happens to those proteins as you eat those foods, and if we can change how those proteins work. Maybe if we can, we could make the “bad” flavors like bitterness and astringency weaker.

    The first drink is stronger than the last...

    At least for spicy, biting, or stinging beverages

    You may have noticed that when you eat spicy foods, in particular, the sensation isn't the same on every bite. When the sensation is stronger than the last time, we call the sensitization. When it's weaker, we call it desensitization. This creates a problem for us at the SPIT lab, because we're doing a lot of research on spicy, stinging, and biting sensations! So, we ran a test with some spicy and carbonated beverages from the store. When we tested them, people did indeed rate them as weaker over the course of the experience (desensitization). However, we didn't see any of the reverse effect (sensitization). Check out the published article here.

    Water should not feel like slime!

    Helping people swallow safely, without all the goo...

    In collaboration with Dr. Georgia Malandraki and I-EAT Lab, we’re looking to use flavors to help people with swallowing disorders (dysphagia) be able to drink more easily and safely. When someone has trouble swallowing liquids (like water or coffee), it can get sucked into their lungs, and then cause pneumonia. To stop this, those liquids are typically thickened, which helps the beverage stick together during swallowing. Trouble is... no one wants to drink slimy water!

     

    Here at the SPIT and I-EAT labs, we’re hoping to help fix this. We are testing how special flavors might be able to help folks swallow, without the need for those nasty thickeners. Stay tuned in coming months for how that goes!

  • Insta-Science

    And other occasional topics (dogs and food, really)

    Follow Dr. Running on Instagram and Twitter! @spitlab

  • SPIT Lab grads

    They've moved on, but their data remain forever!

    (hopefully in published form...)

    Ciera Crawford

    Masters in Food Science, 2018

    Ciera is the first graduate of the SPIT lab! She completes her Master's Degree in Food Science in 2018, which focused on how eating chocolate changes your spit, in ways that likely make that chocolate less bitter and astringent. So, perhaps the darker chocolate you eat, the darker chocolate you like.

    Dr. Jonathan Kershaw

    Post-doctoral Scholar, 2018

    Dr. Kershaw was a post-doctoral scholar in the SPIT lab and is now faculty at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. He worked on:

    Salivary conditioning

    Astringency and bitterness

    Fruits & Veggies to Flavor & Spit

    Sensory Scales

    Cameron Wicks

    Bachelors in Food Science, 2018

    Cameron graduated from Purdue in 2018 with an undergraduate degree in Food Science. She worked on several saliva collection studies, including our preliminary work on how special parts of the tongue might have special spit.

    Miguel Odron

    Bachelors in Dietetics, 2017

    Miguel graduated from Purdue in 2017 with an undergraduate degree in Dietetics, earning himself some extra experience as a sensory scientist! He worked on everything. Seriously.