Individual differences in the sensory perception of fats
Excessive consumption of dietary fat is acknowledged to be a widespread problem linked to a range of medical conditions. Despite this, little is known about the specific sensory appeal held by fats and no previous published research exists concerning human perception of non-textural taste qualities in fats. This research aimed to address whether a taste component can be found in sensory perception of pure fats. It also examined whether individual differences existed in human taste responses to fat, using both aggregated data analysis methods and multidimensional scaling. Results indicated that individuals were able to detect both the primary taste qualities of sweet, salty, sour and bitter in pure processed oils and reliably ascribe their own individually-generated taste labels, suggested that a taste component may be present in human responses to fat. Individual variation appeared to exist, both in the perception of given taste qualities and in perceived intensity and preferences. A number of factors were examined in relation to such individual differences in taste perception, including age, gender, genetic sensitivity to 6-n-propylthiouracil, body mass, dietary preferences and intake, dieting behaviours and restraint. Results revealed that, to varying extents, gender, age, sensitivity to 6-n-propylthiouracil, dietary preferences, habitual dietary intake and restraint all appeared to be related to individual variation in taste responses to fat. However, in general, these differences appeared to exist in the form of differing preferences and levels of intensity with which taste qualities detected in fat were perceived, as opposed to the perception of specific taste qualities being associated with given traits or states. Equally, each of these factors appeared to exert only a limited influence upon variation in sensory responses and thus the potential for using taste responses to fats as a marker for issues such as over-consumption, obesity or eating disorder is at present limited.