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Sweetness Gives Up Its Secrets

Lack of bitter, sour flavors explains sugar's appeal

TUESDAY, March 28, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- It turns out sweetness isn't what taste buds really hanker for in a sweetener.

Instead, a new study suggests tongues are tempted more by a lack of sour, bitter or metallic tastes.

Ohio State University researchers had 13 college students rate 13 different sweeteners and sweet substances, including sugar. The volunteers rated the substances on how much sour, bitter and metallic tastes they detected with each substance.

Sugar was rated highest by the testers, while sucralose (Splenda), a sweetener derived from sugar, was judged to be the best alternative to sugar. This is likely because sucralose lacks noticeable sour and bitter tastes, the researchers said.

The overall results showed that the tasters preferred sweeteners that had little or no sour, bitter or metallic tastes.

The findings were expected to be presented Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society in Atlanta.

"So many sugar substitutes also have unpleasant tastes," study co-author Jeannine Delwiche, assistant professor of food science and technology, said in a prepared statement. "Understanding how people perceive these tastes may help create a sugar substitute that is more palatable. That ultimately means making tastier products with fewer calories."

She plans further studies with larger groups of tasters to learn more about what influences individual taste preferences.

"There is a need for much more research to fully understand how people perceive sweet tastes," Delwiche said.

The study received no funding from private industry.

More information

The Society for Neuroscience has more about taste.

SOURCE: Ohio State University, news release, March 28, 2006
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