Why do people perceive taste of salt differently?

June 18th, 2010 - 6:14 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, June 18 (IANS) Genetics influence the way people like to have different levels of salt in the food they eat, says a study.
John Hayes, assistant professor of food science at the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, who was the lead investigator on the study said: “Those conclusions are important because recent, well-publicized efforts to reduce the salt content in food have left many people struggling to accept food that simply does not taste as good to them as it does to others.

The research involved 87 participants who sampled salty foods such as broth, chips and pretzels, on multiple occasions, spread out over weeks.

Test subjects included 45 men and 42 women, aged between 20 and 40 years. The sample was composed of individuals who were not actively modifying their dietary intake and did not smoke cigarettes.

They rated the intensity of taste on a commonly used scientific scale, ranging from barely detectable to strongest sensation of any kind.

“Supertasters, people who experience tastes more intensely, consume more salt than nontasters. Snack foods have saltiness as their primary flavour, so the supertasters seem to like them more.” said Hayes.

However, supertasters also need higher levels of salt to block unpleasant bitter tastes in foods such as cheese, Hayes noted.

“For example, cheese is a wonderful blend of dairy flavours from fermented milk, but tastes bitter from ripening. A supertaster finds low-salt cheese unpleasant because the bitterness is too pronounced,” he adds.

Hayes cited research done more than 75 years ago by a chemist named Fox and a geneticist named Blakeslee, showing that individuals differ in their ability to taste certain chemicals.

As a result, Hayes explained, we know that a wide range in taste acuity exists, and this variation is as normal as variations in eye and hair colour, said a Penn State release.

The study is a collaboration between John Hayes and Valerie Duffy, professor of allied health science and Bridget S. Sullivan, Master’s graduate, University of Connecticut.

These findings appeared in June issue of Physiology & Behaviour.

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