Explaining variability in sodium intake through oral sensory phenotype, salt sensation and liking

Physiol Behav. 2010 Jun 16;100(4):369-80. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2010.03.017. Epub 2010 Apr 7.


Our sodium-rich food supply compels investigation of how variation in salt sensation influences liking and intake of high-sodium foods. While supertasters (those with heightened propylthiouracil (PROP) bitterness or taste papillae number) report greater saltiness from concentrated salt solutions, the non-taster/supertaster effect on sodium intake is unclear. We assessed taster effects on salt sensation, liking and intake among 87 healthy adults (45 men). PROP bitterness showed stronger associations with perceived saltiness in foods than did papillae number. Supertasters reported: greater saltiness in chips/pretzels and broth at levels comparable to regular-sodium products; greater sensory and/or liking changes to growing sodium concentration in cheeses (where sodium ions mask bitterness) and broths; and less frequently salting foods. PROP effects were attenuated in women. Compared with men, women reported more saltiness from high-sodium foods and greater liking for broth at salt levels comparable to regular-sodium products. Across men and women, Structural Equation Models showed PROP and papillae number independently explained variability in consuming high-sodium foods by impacting salt sensation and/or liking. PROP supertasters reported greater changes in sensation when more salt was added to broth, which then associated with greater changes in broth liking, and finally with more frequent high-sodium food intake. Greater papillae number was associated with less frequent high-sodium food intake via reduced liking for high-fat/high-sodium foods. In summary, variation in sensations from salt was associated with differences in hedonic responses to high-sodium foods and thus sodium intake. Despite adding less salt, PROP supertasters consumed more sodium through food, as salt was more important to preference, both for its salty taste and masking of bitterness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Diet Records
  • Eating
  • Female
  • Food Preferences / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Biological
  • Phenotype*
  • Philosophy
  • Propylthiouracil
  • Sodium Chloride / administration & dosage
  • Sodium, Dietary / administration & dosage*
  • Taste / physiology*
  • Taste Buds / anatomy & histology
  • Taste Perception
  • Young Adult


  • Sodium, Dietary
  • Sodium Chloride
  • Propylthiouracil