Sweet-taste perception changes as children develop

July 31, 2020

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Compared with adults, children and adolescents are less sensitive to the sweet taste and need 40% more sucrose in a solution for them to detect the taste of sugar, a new study found.

Along with higher taste-detection thresholds, both children and adolescents prefer significantly more concentrated levels of sweetness than adults.

"Both of these dimensions of sweet-taste perception ­- sensitivity and preference - undergo distinct developmental trajectories from childhood to adulthood," said M. Yanina Pepino, a professor of food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, who co-wrote the study. "However, they did so independently, and we found no association between the two."

The study included 108 children, 172 adolescents and 205 adults, who ranged in age from 7-67. The National Institutes of Health and the American Diabetes Association supported the research, conducted at the Monell Center in Philadelphia and Washington University in St. Louis.

Julie A. Mennella of the Monell Chemical Senses Center co-wrote the study, published in the journal Nutrients.

The researchers gave participants different pairs of sugar-water concentrations to taste and measured both the concentration that participants preferred and the lowest concentration at which they could detect the taste of sugar.

"While children's lower sensitivity required higher sucrose concentrations for them to detect the taste, participants' sweet-taste sensitivity did not predict the level of sweetness they preferred," said co-author Julie A. Mennella of the Monell Chemical Senses Center.

"To illustrate these age-related differences in taste sensitivity, we estimated the number of 8-ounce glasses of water in which 4 grams of sucrose - the equivalent of one sugar cube - could be dissolved and participants in each age group could start detecting the sweet taste."

For example, children and adolescents' lower sensitivity means they would only be able to detect the taste if the sugar cube were dissolved in five glasses ­- 40 ounces - of water, but adults would be able to detect it in a less concentrated solution of seven glasses - 56 ounces - of water.

Consistent with prior studies, the researchers found that children preferred more intense sweetness than did adults.

Adults favored levels of sweetness similar to a typical cola soft drink, which contains the equivalent of about eight sugar cubes in an 8-ounce glass of water, Mennella said. Children and adolescents preferred a 50% higher sucrose concentration - equivalent to about 12 sugar cubes in 8 ounces of water.

Published in the journal Nutrients, the study built upon and combined data from the researchers' previous research.

"Using the same sensory evaluation methods we used here to measure sucrose preferences, we found previously that the binding potential of dopamine receptors in the striatum, a brain area that encodes the value of rewards, decreased with age - and predicted, independently of age, the most preferred sucrose concentration in healthy young adults," Pepino said.

The researchers hypothesized that the changes in sucrose taste sensitivity and preferences that occur during adolescence may result from distinct developmental trajectories with different underlying mechanisms.

"For example, developmental changes in taste sensitivity may be secondary to changes in the anatomy of the mouth and saliva composition, whereas changes in sweet-taste preferences may be the consequences of changes in the activity and morphology of the brain reward system," Pepino said.
U. of I. students Sara Petty and Clara Salame also co-wrote the study.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, News Bureau

Related Taste Articles from Brightsurf:

Re-mapping taste in the brain
A new study from Stony Brook University found that the map of neural responses mediating taste perception does not involve, as previously believed, specialized groups of neurons in the brain, but rather overlapping and spatially distributed populations.

Sweet taste reduces appetite?
To date, very little is known about how sweetness perception contributes to satiety.

Touch and taste? It's all in the tentacles
Scientists identified a novel family of sensors in the first layer of cells inside the suction cups that have adapted to react and detect molecules that don't dissolve well in water.

How octopus suckers "taste by touch"
Imagine if you could taste something simply by touching it.

Fish oil without the fishy smell or taste
A new study, co-led by University of Cincinnati researchers, describes the development of a refining process that scientists deem a superior method to help produce better dietary omega-3 health and dietary supplements containing fish oil.

New type of taste cell discovered in taste buds
Our mouths may be home to a newly discovered set of multi-tasking taste cells that -- unlike most known taste cells, which detect individual tastes -- are capable of detecting sour, sweet, bitter and umami stimuli.

Sweet-taste perception changes as children develop
While adults prefer levels of sweetness similar to typical soft drinks, children and adolescents are less sensitive to the taste and prefer concentrations that are 50% sweeter, according to research by professor of food science and human nutrition M.

Evolution of loss of smell or taste in COVID-19
This survey-based study examines the clinical course of the loss of sense of smell and taste in a case series of mildly symptomatic patients with SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Chanterelle mushrooms as a taste enhancer
Chanterelles give savoury dishes a rich body and a unique complex flavor.

Neuromarketing of taste
Marina Domracheva and Sofya Kulikova, researchers from HSE University's campus in Perm, have discovered a new approach to analyse the perceived similarity of food products, based on electroencephalography (EEG) signals.

Read More: Taste News and Taste Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.