Although human perception of food flavors involves integration of multiple sensory inputs, the most salient sensations are taste and olfaction. Ortho- and retronasal olfaction are particularly crucial to flavor because they provide the qualitative diversity so important to identify safe versus dangerous foods. Historically, flavor research has prioritized aroma volatiles present at levels exceeding the orthonasally measured odor threshold, ignoring the variation in the rate at which odor intensities grow above threshold. Furthermore, the chemical composition of a food in itself tells us very little about whether or not that food will be liked. Clearly, alternative approaches are needed to elucidate flavor chemistry. Here we use targeted metabolomics and natural variation in flavor-associated sugars, acids, and aroma volatiles to evaluate the chemistry of tomato fruits, creating a predictive and testable model of liking. This nontraditional approach provides novel insights into flavor chemistry, the interactions between taste and retronasal olfaction, and a paradigm for enhancing liking of natural products. Some of the most abundant volatiles do not contribute to consumer liking, whereas other less abundant ones do. Aroma volatiles make contributions to perceived sweetness independent of sugar concentration, suggesting a novel way to increase perception of sweetness without adding sugar.
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