Girls have superior sense of taste to boys

December 16, 2008

New knowledge: Girls have a better sense of taste than boys. Every third child of school age prefers soft drinks which are not sweet. Children and young people love fish and do not think of themselves as being fussy eaters. Boys have a sweeter tooth than girls. And teenagers taste differently. The findings of the world's largest study so far on the ability of children and young people to taste and what they like have now been published. The study was conducted jointly by Danish Science Communication, food scientists from The Faculty of Life Sciences (LIFE) at University of Copenhagen and 8,900 Danish schoolchildren.

In September, 8,900 schoolchildren from all over Denmark took part in a large-scale experiment conducted by Danish Science Communication and The Faculty of Life Sciences (LIFE) at University of Copenhagen. It is the first time that such a large-scale study has been done on the sense of taste of children and young people and what they like to eat.

Danish schoolchildren help scientists

One of the reasons why it was possible to include so many children and young people in the study was that the experiment itself was conducted in quite an unorthodox way: It was planned as a 'mass experiment' in conjunction with this year's natural science festival at Danish primary and secondary schools. All the participating groups of children were sent a complete kit of taster samples and very detailed instructions, and then conducted the experiment as part of their natural science classes. The various tests were designed to quantify the ability of children and young people to discover and recognise sweet and sour tastes at varying intensities, to establish which sourness or sweetness they prefer, how many taste buds they have and, finally, the children answered a number of questions on their eating habits and fussiness over food. And both pupils and teachers have taken the experiment very seriously: "What is most surprising is that the results are so clear and of such a high quality," says Bodil Allesen-Holm, MSc in Food Science and Technology, who is the scientific head of the project and head of the Sensory Laboratory at the Department of Food Science at LIFE. "The trends are very clear in all the answers from the many primary and secondary schools: the pupils and teachers have been very thorough and accurate."

Industry must do better, and parents could experiment more

According to Bodil Allesen-Holm, the results provide food for thought for both the food industry - and for parents: "It is quite clear that children and young people are very good tasters, and that there are bigger variations between them than most people would expect. There is, for example, a marked difference between boys and girls, and the ability of children to recognise tastes changes with age. So one could easily develop more varied food products and snacks for children and young people. For example, it is quite clear that children do not necessarily prefer sweet things. According to the findings, healthy snacks could easily be developed for boys with slightly extreme and sour flavours."

"This experiment has focused on taste alone, while future studies will include more sensory aspects such as smells and appearance to provide a more all-round understanding of Danish children's preferences," says Wender Bredie, Professor of Sensory Science at the Department of Food Science at LIFE.

New facts about what children can taste - and what they like:
-end-
Further information:
Danish Science Communication: Pernille Vils Axelsen, mobile +45 2877 9317, pa@formidling.dk
Faculty of Life Science (LIFE): Bodil Allesen-Holm, mobile +45 2991 8486, bhah@life.ku.dk

University of Copenhagen

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