Why do some like it hot? Genetic and environmental contributions to the pleasantness of oral pungency

Physiol Behav. 2012 Oct 10;107(3):381-9. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2012.09.010. Epub 2012 Sep 23.


Although potential environmental influences on hedonic responses to oral pungency have been identified, little is known of the possible role of genetics underlying these responses. We explored the contribution of genetic and environmental influences on the pleasantness of oral pungency and spicy foods. Respondents were young adult Finnish twins (n=331, 21-25 years), including 47 complete monozygotic and 93 dizygotic twin pairs and 51 twin individuals without their co-twin. Pleasantness and intensity of strawberry jelly spiked with capsaicin (0.0001% w/v) relative to untainted strawberry jelly were rated. Furthermore, pleasantness of spicy foods and oral pungency caused by spices were rated based on food names in a questionnaire. Respondents were grouped as non-likers, medium-likers, and likers by their pleasantness responses to capsaicin spiked jelly. The contribution of genetic and environmental factors to variation and co-variation of the pleasantness traits was analyzed using quantitative genetic modeling. The non-likers perceived oral pungency as more intense (sensory) and rated pleasantness of spicy foods and pungent sensations caused by spices (questionnaire) as less pleasant than the likers. Genetic factors accounted for 18-58% of the variation in the pleasantness of oral pungency, spicy foods and pungent sensations. The rest was due to environmental factors. All pleasantness traits (sensory and questionnaire based) were shown to share a common genetic variance. This indicates that an underlying genetic aptitude to like oral pungency, and spicy foods exists and it is expressed in these measures. The findings broaden the understanding of the diverse nature of individual food preferences and motivate further search for the underlying genetic components of oral pungency.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Twin Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Environment*
  • Female
  • Food Preferences / physiology*
  • Gene-Environment Interaction*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Genetic
  • Mouth / innervation
  • Mouth / physiology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Taste / genetics*
  • Taste Perception / genetics*
  • Twins, Dizygotic
  • Twins, Monozygotic
  • Young Adult