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Genetic and Environmental Variation in Taste: Associations With Sweet Intensity, Preference, and Intake

Duffy, Valerie B. PhD, RD; Peterson, Julie M. MS, RD; Dinehart, Mary E. RD; Bartoshuk, Linda M. PhD


Taste and oral sensations from foods and beverages drive food selection. The present study explored whether markers of variation in taste were associated with variability in sweet sensation, sweet preference, and intake of added sugar. Following the pioneering work of Fischer and colleagues from the 1960s, variation in taste was described using the bitterness of 6-n-propylthiouracil (PROP) and that of quinine hydrochloride (QHCl). These markers represent variation in taste, resulting from genetic and environmental influences. In 38 females and 44 males, those who tasted PROP as least bitter but QHCl as most bitter reported the greatest preference for and intake of added sugars (reported frequency of consuming high added sugar foods or percent energy from added sugar). Individuals who were discordant in the PROP versus QHCl bitterness showed most variance in sweet preference and intake. These findings suggest that genetic and environmental variation in taste influences dietary behaviors toward sweet foods. Dietetics practitioners can apply this information by assessing dietary preferences and assisting individuals who prefer sweet foods and beverages to incorporate them into healthful and enjoyable diets.

School of Allied Health, University of Connecticut, Storrs, Conn (Dr Duffy and Ms Peterson and Dinehart); and the Department of Surgery, Section of Otolaryngology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn (Dr Bartoshuk).

Corresponding author: Valerie B. Duffy, PhD, RD, School of Allied Health, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT 06269-2101 (e-mail:

This study was funded by grants from the NRICGP/USDA (2002-00788 and 9603745), NIH DC00283, and USDA/Food Stamp Education through the Connecticut Department of Public Health. The authors thank Audrey K. Chapo, MS, RD, for helpful comments on the manuscript.

© 2003 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.