Sip and spit or sip and swallow: Choice of method differentially alters taste intensity estimates across stimuli

Physiol Behav. 2017 Nov 1:181:95-99. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2017.09.011. Epub 2017 Sep 11.


While the myth of the tongue map has been consistently and repeatedly debunked in controlled studies, evidence for regional differences in suprathreshold intensity has been noted by multiple research groups. Given differences in physiology between the anterior and posterior tongue (fungiform versus foliate and circumvallate papillae) and differences in total area stimulated (anterior only versus whole tongue, pharynx, and epiglottis), small methodological changes (sip and spit versus sip and swallow) have the potential to substantially influence data. We hypothesized instructing participants to swallow solutions would result in greater intensity ratings for taste versus expectorating the solutions, particularly for umami and bitter, as these qualities were previously found to elicit regional differences in perceived intensity. Two experiments were conducted: one with model taste solutions [sucrose (sweet), a monosodium glutamate/inosine monophosphate (MSG/IMP) mixture (savory/umami), isolone (a bitter hop extract), and quinine HCl (bitter)], and a second with actual food products (grapefruit juice, salty vegetable stock, savory vegetable stock, iced coffee, and a green tea sweetened with acesulfame-potassium and sucralose). In a counterbalanced crossover design, participants (n=66 in experiment 1 and 64 in experiment 2) rated the stimuli for taste intensities both when swallowing and when spitting out the stimuli. Results suggest swallowing may lead to greater reported bitterness versus spitting out the stimulus, but that this effect was not consistent across all samples. Thus, explicit instructions to spit out or swallow samples should be given to participants in studies investigating differences in taste intensities, as greater intensity may sometimes, but not always, be observed when swallowing various taste stimuli.

Keywords: Expectoration; Psychophysical methods; Spitting; Swallowing; Taste intensity.

MeSH terms

  • Deglutition*
  • Drinking*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Humulus
  • Inosine Monophosphate / administration & dosage
  • Male
  • Quinine / administration & dosage
  • Sodium Glutamate / administration & dosage
  • Sucrose / administration & dosage
  • Taste / physiology*


  • Inosine Monophosphate
  • Sucrose
  • Quinine
  • Sodium Glutamate