Spicy substance from pepper gets into breast milk after eating

Spicy breast milk?

A joint press release of the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and the Leibniz Institute for Food Systems Biology at TUM (LSB)

Freising, November 25, 2021 - In part of a recent human study led by the Technical University of Munich (TUM), it was found that after eating a curry dish containing pepper, piperine - an alkaloid responsible for the pungency of pepper - was present in the milk of breastfeeding women.  The findings help decipher mechanisms that shape our food preferences from infancy.

Breast milk is the first food that babies consume.  Various studies have suggested that the “taste experience” in early childhood influences eating behavior in adults. Unlike standardized infant formula, natural milk does not taste and smell the same every day. The differences are largely due to the maternal diet.

No one-to-one transfer

However, the taste and aroma of food consumed by the mother are not transferred one-to-one to her milk. Research has already shown that odor and taste active substances from garlic or coffee partly enter the mother’s milk as an odor active metabolic product, while flavors from fish oil or nursing tea were of little to no significance in this respect.

The extent to which pungent substances from chili, ginger, or pepper are found in breast milk has been even less researched than aroma and taste substances. For this reason, a scientific team led by TUM has now investigated whether these substances are transferred from food to breast milk and if so, which ones.

Piperine detectable after just one hour

Through extensive mass spectrometric analyses, the team has shown that already one hour after consumption of a standardized curry dish, piperine is detectable in breast milk for several hours. “The observed maximum concentrations of 14 to 57 micrograms per liter were about 70- to 350-fold below the taste perception threshold of an adult,” says Professor Corinna Dawid, who heads the Chair of Food Chemistry and Molecular Sensory Science at TUM commissarial for Professor Thomas Hofmann.

Roman Lang, who was initially involved in the study as a scientist at TUM and later at the Leibniz Institute for Food Systems Biology (LSB) adds, “It seems rather unlikely to us that the infants consciously perceive the sharpness. Nevertheless, it is conceivable that regular, low-threshold activation of the “pungent receptor” TRPV1 could help to increase tolerance for such substances later on.”

Pungents from ginger or chili as well as the secondary plant compound curcumin, which is also abundant in curry, did not enter milk, according to the research. “We were particularly surprised by the latter, since piperine is supposed to significantly increase the bioavailability of curcumin according to the results of other studies,” reports Roman Lang, who heads the Biosystems Chemistry & Human Metabolism research group at the LSB.

“These observations were made in collaboration with our partners from the Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nuremberg, the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV, and the LSB. Continued exploration will help us to better understand both the emergence of food preferences and the metabolic processes that play a role in the transfer of bioactive food ingredients into breast milk,” says TUM-Professor Corinna Dawid.


N´Diaye K, Debong M, Behr J, Dirndorfer S, Duggan T, Beusch A, Schlagbauer V, Dawid C, Loos HM, Buettner A, Lang R, Hofmann T (2021) Mol Nutr Food Res, 11:e2100508, DOI: 10.1002/mnfr.202100508. Dietary piperine is transferred into the milk of nursing mothers


The study results were generated as part of a cooperative project between the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and the Friedrich-Alexander University of Erlangen-Nuremberg funded by the German Research Foundation.

More Information:

The study results were obtained as part of a cooperative project between the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and the Friedrich-Alexander-University of Erlangen-Nuremberg funded by the German Research Foundation.

Eighteen mothers participated in the intervention study. Details on the study procedure and sample collection as well as the composition of the curry spice mixture can be found in the current scientific publication listed above as well as in the following publications.

Debong M, N´Diaye K., Owsienko D, Ammar T, Lang R, Buettner A, Hofmann T, Loos H (2021), Mol Nutr Food Res, 2100507, DOI: 10.1002/mnfr.202100507. Dietary Linalool is transferred into the milk of nursing mothers https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/mnfr.202100507

Debong M, Lang R, N´Diaye K, Buettner A, Hofmann T, Loos HM (2021) Proceedings of the 16th Weurman Flavour Research Symposium, DOI:10.5281/zenodo.5346462.  Tracing odour- and taste-active compounds in human milk https://zenodo.org/record/5346462#.YYuJFmDMKUk


Expert contact:

Dr. Roman Lang
Leibniz Institute for Food Systems Biology
at the Technical University of Munich (LSB)
Lise-Meitner-Str. 34
85354 Freising / Germany
Email: r.lang.leibniz-lsb(at)tum.de
Phone: +49 8161 71-2978

Profile of Dr. Roman Lang:  https://www.leibniz-lsb.de/en/institute/staff/profile-dr-roman-lang/

Professor Dr. Corinna Dawid
Technical University of Munich
Chair of Food Chemistry and Molecular Sensory Science
Email: Corinna.dawid.(at)tum.de
Phone: +49 8164 71 2901

Responsible for PR at the LSB:

Dr. Gisela Olias
Knowledge Transfer, Press and Public Relations
Phone: +49 8161 71-2980
Email: g.olias.leibniz-lsb(at)tum.de

Press Contact at the TUM:
Corporate Communications Center
Dr. Katharina Baumeister

Information about the LSB

The Leibniz Institute for Food Systems Biology at the Technical University of Munich (LSB) comprises a new, unique research profile at the interface of Food Chemistry & Biology, Chemosensors & Technology, and Bioinformatics & Machine Learning. As this profile has grown far beyond the previous core discipline of classical food chemistry, the institute spearheads the development of a food systems biology.  

Its primary research objective is to develop new approaches for the sustainable production of sufficient quantities of food whose biologically active effector molecule profiles are geared to health and nutritional needs, but also to the sensory preferences of consumers. To do so, the institute explores the complex networks of sensorically relevant effector molecules along the entire food production chain with a focus on making their effects systemically understandable and predictable in the long term.

The LSB is a member of the Leibniz Association, which connects 96 independent research institutions. Their orientation ranges from the natural sciences, engineering and environmental sciences through economics, spatial and social sciences to the humanities. Leibniz Institutes devote themselves to social, economic and ecological issues. They conduct knowledge-oriented and application-oriented research, also in the overlapping Leibniz research networks, are or maintain scientific infrastructures and offer research-based services. The Leibniz Association focuses on knowledge transfer, especially with the Leibniz Research Museums. It advises and informs politics, science, business and the public. Leibniz institutions maintain close cooperation with universities - among others, in the form of the Leibniz Science Campuses, industry and other partners in Germany and abroad. They are subject to a transparent and independent review process. Due to their national significance, the federal government and the federal states jointly fund the institutes of the Leibniz Association. The Leibniz Institutes employ around 21,000 people, including almost 12,000 scientists. The entire budget of all the institutes is more than two billion euros.

+++ Via our Twitter channel https://twitter.com/LeibnizLSB you stay up to date +++