Human saliva and model saliva at bulk to adsorbed phases – similarities and differences

Anwesha Sarkar*, Feng Xu, Seunghwan Lee

*Corresponding author for this work

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Human saliva, a seemingly simple aqueous fluid, is, in fact, an extraordinarily complex biocolloid that is not fully understood, despite many decades of study. Salivary lubrication is widely believed to be a signature of good oral health and is also crucial for speech, food oral processing and swallowing. However, saliva has been often neglected in food colloid research, primarily due to its high intra- to inter-individual variability and altering material properties upon collection and storage, when used as an ex vivo research material. In the last few decades, colloid scientists have attempted designing model (i.e. ‘saliva mimicking fluid’) salivary formulations to understand saliva-food colloid interactions in an in vitro set up and its contribution on microstructural aspects, lubrication properties and sensory perception. In this Review, we critically examine the current state of knowledge on bulk and interfacial properties of model saliva in comparison to real human saliva and highlight how far such model salivary formulations can match the properties of real human saliva. Many, if not most, of these model saliva formulations share similarities with real human saliva in terms of biochemical compositions, including electrolytes, pH and concentrations of salivary proteins, such as α-amylase and highly glycosylated mucins. This, together with similarities between model and real saliva in terms of surface charge, has led to significant advancement in decoding various colloidal interactions (bridging, depletion) of charged emulsion droplets and associated sensory perception in the oral phase. However, model saliva represents significant dissimilarity to real saliva in terms of lubricating properties. Based on in-depth examination of properties of mucins derived from animal sources (e.g. pig gastric mucins (PGM) or bovine submaxillary mucin (BSM)), we can recommend that BSM is currently the most optimal commercially available mucin source when attempting to replicate saliva based on surface adsorption and lubrication properties. Even though purification via dialysis or chromatographic techniques may influence various physicochemical properties of BSM, such as structure and surface adsorption, the lubricating properties of model saliva formulations based on BSM are generally superior and more reliable than the PGM counterpart at orally relevant pH. Comparison of mucin-containing model saliva with ex vivo human salivary conditioning films suggests that mucin alone cannot replicate the lubricity of real human salivary pellicle. Mucin-based multi-layers containing mucin and oppositely charged polyelectrolytes may offer promising avenues in the future for engineering biomimetic salivary pellicle, however, this has not been explored in oral tribology experiments to date. Hence, there is a strong need for systematic studies with employment of model saliva formulations containing mucins with and without polycationic additives before a consensus on a standardized model salivary formulation can be achieved. Overall, this review provides the first comprehensive framework on simulating saliva for a particular bulk or surface property when doing food oral processing experiments.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102034
JournalAdvances in Colloid and Interface Science
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Bibliographical note

© 2019 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY license (


  • Human saliva
  • Model saliva
  • Mucin
  • pellicle
  • Lubrication
  • Tribology

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