Two experiments from the University of Copenhagen have confirmed Danes are less capable of detecting bitter tastes than Chinese subjects. The analysis indicates that this is due to anatomical variations between Danish and Chinese people's tongues.
It has been established that women have a stronger sense of taste than men. University of Copenhagen study now shows that race may also play a role in how susceptible an individual is to the bitter taste contained in broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and dark chocolate, for example. By having test subjects sample the bitter material PROP, two experiments reveal that this specific taste is perceived differently by Danish and Chinese individuals. On the tongue surfaces of these two types, the cause appears to be linked to an anatomical distinction.
"Our studies show that the vast majority of Chinese test subjects are more sensitive to bitter tastes than the Danish subjects. We also see a link between the prominence of bitter taste and the number of small bumps, known as papillae, on a person's tongue," says Professor Wender Bredie of the University of Copenhagen's Department of Food Science (UCPH FOOD) according to a press release from the University of Copenhangen.
In collaboration with Chenhao Wang and Jon Sporring of the Department of Computer Science of UCPH, researchers from UCPH FOOD examined the amount of "fungiform" mushroom-shaped papillae on the tongues of 152 test subjects, half of whom were Danish and half Chinese, using a modern artificial intelligence tool.
Most of the taste buds in our mouth are found on the tip of the tongue and play a vital role in our food and taste sensations. To properly understand the importance of the form of papillae they have, it is important to learn more about their position, size and quantity.
The study found that the Chinese test subjects normally had more of these papillae than the Danish subjects, a finding that the researchers claim explains why bitter tastes are best tasted by Chinese citizens.
Professor Bredie stresses, though, that it is important to analyze broader populations before any conclusive assumptions can be made on whether these obvious phenotypical variations between Danes and Chinese are at the level of the general population.
For food growth, further information regarding differences in taste sensations may be significant. Professor Bredie states:
"It is relevant for Danish food producers exporting to Asia to know that Asian and Danish consumers probably experience tastes from the same product differently. This must be taken into account when developing products."
Professor Wender Bredie points out that just one of the variables affecting the way we view food is genetics. Another critical aspect — like texture — has to do with our tastes. For eg, think about the contrast in munching on a freshly opened bag with crispy potato chips compared to consuming softened ones from a bag opened the day before. Here, many Danes, while the flavor is identical, will definitely choose the crispy ones over the soft ones. There appears to be a differentiation between the Danish and Chinese research subjects on this stage as well, according to the UCPH reports.
While the overwhelming majority of Chinese subjects (77%) favor foods that do not need much chewing, for Danish subjects, the reverse holds true. Among the Danes, 73% tend to consume foods that involve biting and chewing with a tougher consistency - for example, rye bread and carrots.
The cause for this differentiation is unclear, although the researchers assume that it derives from variations in the history of food and the forms we learn to feed. The experiments do not refer to the form of the tongue as causing any difference.
Because tongue papillae counting is typically performed manually, and a tongue has hundreds of tiny fungiform papillae, it is a difficult job in which it is simple to make errors.
The latest system, focused on artificial intelligence and developed by the Department of Computer Science's image analysis experts Chenhao Wang and Jon Sporring, automates the counting and delivers accuracy. Using an algorithm, they developed a tongue-coordinate device that can use image recognition to map papillae on individual tongues.